The young lioness of the Tsalala pride has a chip on her shoulder. The sole survivor of 8 cubs born to the two Tsalala sisters in 2011, she has had a hard upbringing, watching her 3 siblings and 4 cousins fall under the hooves of buffalo, get swept away by a raging Sand River, and become casualties of their meant-to-be-protectors, the Majingilane.
She has been chased by these self-same Majingilane countless times, driven away from her pride, and caught and mauled by them on more than one occasion. Now that she is approaching full-size however, it seems she is wanting to slake her bitterness on any other smaller predator that she may encounter. Over the last ten days she has killed a wild dog and possibly a leopard (more details on these in later posts) and been seen in hot pursuit of the Camp Pan male, who we are happy to report just managed to evade her clutches by dodging through thick reedbeds near the Causeway.
She is certainly stealing the show as the Tsalala pride prepare for a dry winter.
The pride has been through their fair share of ups and downs over the years, and we foresee a difficult time for them in the near future as the Styx males, and possibly the Matimbas from the north, encroach onto what was once Majingilane territory. The young lions in the pride are yet to reach their second birthday, and the three young males will need to remain under their mother’s care for some time to come should they hope to survive and reach adulthood. It is far too early for them to survive on their own, and if the Majingilane vacate the north of Londolozi for good (which they haven’t done yet), the youngsters could be in trouble.
The pride spent a few days this week feeding on a buffalo in the Sand River just downstream from the Londolozi camps. It was an old buffalo bull that had died of natural causes, and the lions were forced to share the carcass with a number of crocodiles who had scented the blood in the water.
As the dry conditions settle more firmly on the land the pride has been spending a lot more time around the river than usual for this time of year, and we anticipate a continuation of this behaviour over the forthcoming months. The old buffalo bulls will lose condition earlier, with the wilting of the grass brought on by lower rainfall, and the pride will likely switch to their role of buffalo hunters earlier than they normally would.
Our question now is whether or not the two old females have it in them to breed again? They are turning 14 at the end of this year and are slowly slipping into old age as lionesses. I strongly suspect that for the tailed lioness, her current litter may be her last. Reproduction in lions generally starts declining after about 11 years and after 15 they are very unlikely to conceive, although a lioness in the Kgalagadi National Park was recorded as giving birth at the ripe old age of 19!
What is certain is that for the Tsalala pride, as well as the Sparta pride to the south, they are about to face the biggest upheaval in lion dynamics since the Majingilane’s arrival in 2010. The hopes of the pride seem to rest squarely on the shoulders of the young lioness.
Written and Photographed by James Tyrrell