The Sparta Pride, also known as the Eyrefield Pride, sits close to many people’s hearts. Providing the core of the lion viewing at Londolozi this pride also spawned, what is thought by many to be one of the strongest ever coalitions to reign of the southern Kruger area, the Mapogos.
The last couple of years have not been easy on this pride. In particular the last 12 months has been a whirlwind since their dominant male, the Shaw’s/Rollercoaster Male rapidly started deteriorating and then died on the 1st January 2010. Having being led this male for much of his 14 year life, the Sparta pride now found themselves incredibly vulnerable.
At this stage, 2 of the adult lionesses had figured out that difficult times lay ahead for their pride, especially since there were a number of sub-adult males in the pride together with the newly adopted Tsalala Young Male (Solo). They made the decision that in order to save their family they would have to abandon ship and face the music. The music came in the form of 2 Mapogo brothers, Satan and Kinky-Tail, who were making a concerted effort to claim possession of the pride they had been born into. The 2 females intercepted these males, buying the Sparta Pride time to run away into the western sections of the Sabi-Sands.
Just one day after the death of the Shaw’s Male, the 2 Mapogos linked up with the 2 Sparta Females and began mating with them. Just over 3 months later and the inevitable happened…3 cubs were born; stashed away in the Sand River. The females now had no option – if they took the cubs back to the Sparta Pride they would be leading the Mapogo directly to the sub-adult males and therefore would be signing their death warrants. They had to go their own way and thus formed the ‘Breakaway Sparta Pride’.
It was about 2 months before we, at Londolozi, first saw these 3 cubs and the 2 females innocently playing around the Causeway. It was also about this time when Kinky-Tail was killed by the Maginjilane Coalition and Satan ran west to link up with his brothers. We considered the future of these cubs to be incredibly bleak. They would have no ‘father figure’ and pretty much any male that saw them would kill them. Add to this the complication that all three of the cubs were males, being born into an era when the male dynamics were so unstable.
But lions have a knack at fighting against the odds; the Breakaway Sparta Females knew the rules of the game. They moved around like ghosts, completely under the radar. Killing to support their offspring and avoiding all potential interactions with any big male, they became masters of this art.
The question working on all our minds at the time was would the Breakaway Pride attempt to rejoin with the core of the Sparta lions. The benefits would be huge; extra vigilant lions, better protection, increased numbers for hunting making it easier to provide for 3 growing young males. But how would the Tsalala Young Male handle the 3 male cubs hanging around, carrying the bloodline of the Mapogo?
The first union occurred in mid August. After 8 months of isolation, the Breakaway Sparta females, introduced their cubs to the rest of the Sparta pride much the irritation of the Tsalala Young Male. Even though he was not at ease with the situation, he accepted the encounter at the behest of the two females, showing submission a number of times throughout the encounter. The meeting only lasted a day then both parties went their separate ways. The Breakaway Sparta 2 + 3 returned to their ghost like existence.
In late October 2010 several members of the Southern Pride were spotted feeding on the same buffalo kill as the Breakaway Sparta 2 + 3. It was fascinating to watch 2 separate prides feeding together, showing tolerance towards each other. Again the textbooks struggle to explain this scenario.
The situation seemed sublime when on the 7th December 2010 the entire Sparta pride reunited, feeding together on a buffalo kill. This was the first time, according to our sightings, that we had seen genuine interaction between these 2 groups. We watched in amazement as the cubs rubbed up against Tsalala Young Male seemingly integrating themselves into the pride. Little did we know the tragedy that would soon take place….
Just before Christmas 2010, 2 of the Breakaway Sparta Cubs were found dead, killed by the marauding Maginjilane Coalition. This altercation not only left 2 of the 3 cubs dead but also savagely injured on of the females. Bite marks to her back tell a story of how close to death she must have been.
For over a month the 3 struggling lions (2 + 1) have wandered around the boundary between Sparta and Dudley, desperately hunting in order to keep themselves functional. Understandably, the have become quite nervous and shy, preferring to melt away then be seen. This breakaway pride will require all the tenacity and fortitude they can muster to take themselves forward into the future.