This morning was the first time I had seen the Tsalala lionesses in a while. I have just got back from leave recently, which might have something to do with it, but a quick scan through the sightings of the last couple of months reveals that sightings of them by other rangers have also been few and far between. They have been relatively scarce around their usual haunts on Marthly, and the traditional sightings of them on the airstrip in the cool hours of the early morning have been fading into memory in the last while.
Multiple factors may be involved in determining where lion prides are likely to hang out; prey abundance, the presence of males or other prides, water availability, and a plethora of unknown reasons which will push or pull the lions in certain directions depending on the season. Maybe in the next few months the Tsalala pride will be around a bit more. Maybe so much else has been going on with the other inhabitants of Londolozi that not as much emphasis has been placed on tracking and finding this small pride. Cubs are often a factor that determines how readily a pride is sought. Small little lions provide wonderful viewing, and with leopards as well, the presence of little ones is obviously a major drawcard when it comes to deciding which animals to look for on a specific game drive.
There is obviously much fuel for debate here, but all that aside, my question is this: have the Tsalala Pride lost the last remaining survivor from the 8 cubs of 2011?
This morning the two sisters (younger tailless and tailed) from the pride were found by Lucien Beaumont in the company of one of the Majingilane males, heading east and eventually sleeping near our Eastern boundary, an area in which they are not often encountered, as it is right on the boundary of both the Styx and Sparta Prides’ territories. A few days ago, ranger Byron Serrao found all four Majingilane in the company of the three older Tsalala lionesses a little further to the north, across the Sand River. The sub-adult lioness was nowhere to be seen.
We know that the Tsalala lionesses have had a number of run-ins with the Styx Pride in recent months, and we also know that for some reason, the sub-adult lioness has been chased by the Majininglane whenever she has encountered them. The poor relationship with the Majingilane males in particular must be incredibly stressful for a young lioness who is not yet fully independent, as whenever she encounters the males, she is forced to leave the pride for a spell, thereby reducing her hunting capabilities and access to food, as well as exposing her to other dangers which she now has to face alone.
It is far too early to declare a missing lioness dead, as both lions and leopards sometimes go unseen for weeks only to rear their heads again, but even if the sub-adult lioness is still alive, how long can the current state of affairs last before circumstances overtake her and she is killed?
I don’t know what is going to happen, and we currently don’t know where she is, but for now, the outlook for this often ostracized young lioness is bleak.
Written and photographed by James Tyrrell