It’s just my opinion, but I think the Sparta pride is in trouble. A few weeks ago, we ran a post entitled ‘What are These Lions Doing?” in which we looked at the strange territorial movements being displayed by the Mhangeni and Sparta prides. We ended off with the suspicion that the lions were on a collision course, it seems to me that this prophecy may have come true.
A young Sparta male has been limping along behind the pride for the last couple of weeks. Severe gashes just behind his right foreleg and wounds on his rump and the base of his tail suggest a serious encounter with another predator.
A leopard? Almost certainly not. The young male is pretty much the same size as a male leopard, and any leopard taking on the young lion would be taking on the whole pride as well. Likewise for hyenas. With the Majingilane as the apex predators, Hyena-Lion interaction is currently rare in this area. Coupled with this is the fact that there are enough leopards making kills in the reserve for the Hyenas to rob and get an adequate supply of meat. The Majingilane have never displayed aggression towards the Sparta cubs, and the placement of the injuries on the young Sparta male are not ones that would have been sustained whilst feeding at a kill, where a lashing out from an adult male may inflict a wound.
Given the pride’s movement in recent weeks and the movement of other lions, all evidence points to the Mhangeni pride as the culprits.
When Dean Smithyman and Elmon Mhlongo tracked the Sparta Pride to Sunset Bend Clearing two days ago, all four Majingilane were in attendance, but of the young male there was no sign. His emaciated condition has deteriorated rapidly over the last few weeks, and we strongly suspect that he has succumbed to his injuries and died.
Although the rainy season is generally a time of plenty, it seems that the abundance of young animals like impala and wildebeest was actually to this lion’s detriment. I have watched the Sparta pride make a few kills recently, and each one has been a young animal (a zebra foal and two wildebeest calves were their prey on the three separate occasions I have seen them hunt successfully in the last month). Although catching and killing a small calf is easier for the lions, what it means is that there is not quite enough meat to adequately satisfy the pride, and unfortunately, since the injured young male has been limping along a few hundred metres behind the pride on their night forays, he has always arrived too late to share in the spoils of the kill. He has been unable to race ahead to join in the feeding, and even if he could, in his depleted condition it is doubtful whether he’d have been able to muscle his way in to grab a portion of the meat. Had the pride brought down bigger, adult animals, there would most likely have been sufficient meat left over for him once the rest of the pride had fed.
As you will see in the below video, the Mhangeni pride are bringing down much larger animals, such as zebra, which provide more than enough meat for their pride:
So what next?
As well as losing one young male (although his death is as yet unconfirmed), one of the adult lionesses of the Sparta pride has been walking with quite a serious limp. Should the Sparta and Mhangeni prides clash, it would be four healthy lionesses (Mhangeni) versus two healthy and one limping one (Sparta). The Mhangeni lionesses are slightly larger in my opinion, and my money would be on them to come out on top in a serious encounter.
This is all simply conjecture, remember, and anything could happen, but I am convinced that the next 6 months will see significant changes in the lion dynamics of Londolozi, with the Mhangeni pride possibly emerging as the dominant group of lionesses in the central Sabi Sands.
For those of you who have been following the ongoing saga of ‘Lion Warfare‘ let me know your thoughts, comments and opinions below…
Written and Photographed by James Tyrrell