A territorial anomaly has arisen in the lion dynamics over the last month or so. The Sparta and Mhangeni Prides have been operating in areas traditionally occupied by the other pride ie. Mhangeni in Sparta territory and vice versa. As far as we know, there has never been a clash between the two, as a buffer zone of sorts has always existed between the two territories.
Take a look at Map 1. The red territory of the Sparta Pride is a large one. They tend to operate more in the eastern areas during the Winter months as that is where the Sand River lies in their territory and they can rely on a steady stream of game coming to drink. Hunting is therefore far more productive in this area. In the Summer months there is water everywhere. The pans fill up after the rains and even puddles in the road provide drinking water for the animals. We generally see the Sparta Pride shifting further westwards during this time, even heading right down to our South-Western areas.
The Mhangeni Pride by contrast has traditionally operated in the North and West, centering their activities around the Ximpalapala area and Manyelethi River. Occasionally drifting south of the river, they have still confined themselves to a relatively small part of the Londolozi property. This has helped us considerably as we have been able to predict fairly accurately where we will be able to find them on a day to day basis. Their confined area of movement may well have been due in part to the age of their cubs.
In the last month, however, the prides have done a switch. The Sparta Pride has been seen further west than they have been in the last 5 years, and the Mhangeni females have been moving steadily south and east. Map 2 shows where the prides have been seen recently. The red dots indicate the path the Sparta pride took back to their normal territory after a recent foray into the west. The skirted south of where the Mhangeni females and their cubs were moving, and in fact crossed the whole of the Londolozi property in a single night.
Why has this been happening?
We have been discussing it amongst the ranging team, and one theory relates to the youth of the lionesses in both prides. Neither pride has senior females to lead them or guide them through and along traditional territorial pathways. The Sparta pride lost their last old female earlier this year and the Mhangeni Pride is essentially new, having split from the Tsalala Pride a couple of years ago. Without the guidance of older pride members, it is possible that old territorial lines have become unclear, and with the advent of the rains, scent marks have been washed away, further confusing the issue.
What we are sure of is that should a clash occur, the youngsters in the Sparta pride would not be a factor, and since the Mhangeni youngsters are all still cubs, the conflict would essentially be between 3 young lionesses of the Sparta Pride and 4 slightly younger females of the Mhangeni Pride. We have no way of accurately predicting what would happen. I suppose the area may play a part; whichever pride found themselves on familiar ground may well have the upper hand.
Yesterday the Mhangeni pride were lying on Carcass clearing while the Sparta pride were not found, but their tracks were way to the west of camp. This morning the Sparta pride were lying exactly where the Mhangeni pride were yesterday while the Mhangeni females had moved their cubs south and west. Refer to Map 3.
We are holding our collective breaths. As things are going, a conflict seems almost inevitable…
Written and Photographed by James Tyrrell