I remember a few months ago when the Southern Pride was seen on Londolozi for the first time in a while; I bundled all the trainee rangers into a Land Rover after game drive to see if we could find them as they set out for the evening’s hunt, thinking we might not have another opportunity for awhile to view this most awesome of lion prides.
How wrong I was.
As I’m sure many of you are aware, conflict between the big males in the South has ripped the Southern (or Selati) Pride asunder. Most of the information we receive on pride movements elsewhere is second hand, so a lot of what we suspect is pure conjecture. As lion movement is mainly during the hours of darkness, tracks in the sand and the evidence of our own eyes in the morning leaves us with a lot of piecing together of puzzles to find out what has really happened.
What we do know is this:
After the arrival of the Majingilane on Londolozi in 2010, two young males from the Sparta Pride along with the Tsalala young male (who was also now part of the pride – a story all in itself) left the pride to become nomadic males, their exit forced by the newcomers.
Fast forward a couple of years, and the three young males have been reduced to two, one of the Sparta young males being lost in the wilderness. However, two-and-a-half years is a substantial amount of time in which a young male lion can grow up, and the two now have youth and size on their side. Being a coalition of only two, it is unlikely that they could take over a territory dominated by a larger group (eg Majingilane – 4 males), so they set their sights on the territory of the Southern pride, where only the remaining Kruger Male reigned supreme.
Now things get a little more complicated.
Things are far from settled in the South. We do not know for sure whether the Kruger Male has been properly ousted yet or not, but he has certainly been seen on the Londolozi property, alone and in Majingilane territory. This suggests that he has either been dethroned or he was looking for the rest of his pride, which at the moment is in disarray. The largest pride in the Sabi Sands, it has been a long time since the South Pride has been seen as an intact hunting unit.
With the arrival of the Sparta males in the reserve’s southern reaches, a group of what was originally 11 lions from the South pride left their territory and set up shop on Londolozi’s south-western grasslands, hunting buffalo and trying to keep a low profile to avoid other prides and coalitions. Sometimes moving further west from our boundary, the pride drifted in and out, knowing that the young males and cubs in the group would be killed should they come into contact with the Sparta males. Some of the senior lionesses from the pride remained in their core territory and at least one of them has had her cubs killed by the Sparta males. We also know that the Tsalala young male (the larger of the Sparta males; I know, the name thing does get confusing) has definitely beens seen mating with lionesses from the South Pride.
Things have recently become even more confusing as the original group of 11 has split once more. The floppy-eared female, one of the oldest lionesses in the pride, has been moving back and forth between the breakaway pride and the rest that stayed in the South.
The latest sighting on Londolozi (see The Week in Pictures last Friday) was of only two young males out of a possible four, and two young females. A single cub was found a few weeks ago by ranger Melvin Sambo and tracker Milton Khoza, all alone and moving south in the long grass. It’s getting kind of hard to make sense of it all, especially because the tracks have painted a very confusing picture of late. Tracks of a pride cross west from our boundary but then more South Pride lions are found still on the reserve. Male tracks come north but disappear; sometimes there is a single set of male tracks, sometimes two. The majority of the breakaway pride was definitely chased south by the Majingilane a week or so ago, and roaring has been heard in all four corners of the reserve.
I know I am spilling out a whole bunch of seemingly garbled facts here but I am trying to stick to what we know, and we are trying our best to work out what is happening, as I’m sure you are.
The bottom line – and I’ll try focus only on this now – is that the young males from the South pride are in trouble. Should the Sparta males successfully overthrow the Kruger Male, the young males face certain death if they return to their former territory. The area where they are currently spending a lot of their time, although not often visited, is controlled by the Majingilane, also possible death for intruding young males. So where can they go?
The South-western grasslands, not as abundant with prey species as other areas in the park, tends to be a bit of a vacuum for lions. Prides move through the area but seldom remain long. The infamous Mapogo spent time here when they lost their grip on the west, and it was four othermales that were also originally from the South pride who dethroned them and still control the Western reaches of the Sabi Sands. These older Southern male also bided their time in the South-western grasslands until they were big enough to attempt a takeover.
I suspect that this is where we are going to be seeing a lot more of the South pride for some time to come. If not the whole pride or the original breakaway 11, then at least the young males.
It was at a similar age that their older brethren first split with two of their sisters, stayed under the radar in a similar area, and eventually rose to dethrone the areas most infamous coalition of all time, the Mapogo.
I get an eerie sense of deja vu when viewing young, shaggy maned male lions down in the no-mans land of the south west, with scenes reminiscent of 2011 and early 2012 playing themselves out as the previous Southern pride young males began their rise to prominence.
Who knows? A lot of what I’ve written is pure speculation in terms of which lions are going to do what and what the future holds…
Let’s wait and see…
Written and photographed by James Tyrrell