As we rounded the last corner, the unmistakable sight of a large pride of lions feeding on buffalo carcass greeted us. Nearby, however, was another smaller pride of lions. On closer inspection we discovered that it was one of the Sparta females and the three cubs lying off to the side of the kill, whilst a large portion of the Southern Pride sat feeding on the kill.
There were 9 Southern Pride lions feeding on the buffalo carcass (You will remember this pride bringing down another buffalo in Buffalo Thrills and Lion Kills), yet at this stage there was no sign of the second Sparta female. We sat watching the feeding for some time, with the lions scrapping amongst themselves for the best spot at the feast. Just 30 meters away, the three cubs sat, thin and whining in frustration at not being able to feed. The adult female kept calling for her sister, keeping a close eye on the cubs.
Then, quite unexpectedly, the four of them got up and walked to within ten meters of the feeding, the adult female still calling. We suddenly realized that the second Sparta female was sandwiched in between the 8 members of the Southern Pride, feeding as if one of them! The cubs, particularly the youngest of the three (whose mother was the one feeding) showed amazing courage (or desperation!) and kept trying to somehow sneak in and grab a morsel to eat, getting within meters of the kill before being chased off by the young males of the Southern Pride. As they started to confront the cubs however, the Sparta female who was feeding would hand out a few well placed blows to the lions closest to her in order to protect her cubs. On another occasion, she became engaged in a tussle with one of the young males at the carcass and her sister promptly ran in to her rescue.
After feeding for some time with the others, she simply sat up, walked over to her sister and cubs, greeted them, drank and they all then promptly lay down just a few meters away relaxing. Later on that day, rangers found the Southern Pride sleeping and the Sparta females and cubs taking a turn feeding on the carcass together!
Such interactions amongst different, unrelated prides of lions are almost unheard of. And old saying though, is that animals don’t read the behavioral guides we write. After a while, you begin to expect the unexpected out here. When looking a little deeper, it was noted that the makeup of this portion of the Southern pride was 5 young males and 3 young females. None of the adult females were present. This seems to be the only logical explanation for the interaction. The Sparta females, although outnumbered, had age, size and experience on their side. The Southern Pride, although possessing strength in numbers, were unconfident without the older females there to help push home their advantage. In the end, the two groups met somewhere in the middle and an awkward truce ensued, where both sides managed to leave with full stomachs.
Written by: David Dampier
Filmed by: Dan Goodwin (Londolozi Guest) & Rich Laburn