A lot has been said in the last few weeks about a fast-changing situation in our surrounding lion dynamics. Male lion coalition takeovers are serious events which alter the fate of many prides and can happen very quickly and without much warning, as it did in March 2010. However, what has been happening lately does not fall into that category of change, but a rather slow and progressive one. That being said, anything could still happen at any moment and we continue to wait and see.
A particularly interesting occurrence at the moment involves the Sparta Pride. The youngest members of the longest standing pride on Londolozi consist of three males and a female, the only four survivors of a total eight cubs born middle-to-late 2012, and as such are quite sizeable already. Approaching their third birthdays, the three males are around the age when their fathers, the Majingilane males, should be pressuring them to leave the area. This doesn’t seem to have happened yet, but at the end of last week two of these young males were found together but without any other lions. A first.
Video: watch this video of the three Sparta lions filmed as cubs during 2012:
It would be expected that upon leaving their pride permanently, the three young males would do so together, intentionally forming a coalition of three strong sub-adults with better chances of surviving through their next few nomadic years and carrying themselves toward succeeding in a coalition takeover wherever that may be, as their fathers have done. In two previous occasions the three young males have been found together but not too far away from their pride, but both occasions were due to the older Styx males being close by, forcing the young males into hiding. Both occasions also saw the immediate return of the Majingilane males into that area which sent the Styx males back east, allowing the Sparta young males to rejoin their pride under their fathers’ security. So what event would cause only two of the young males to have separated from the pride?
While viewing the young males it was not apparent that they had been in any recent fight as they both looked in usual condition. There was certainly concern amongst the Rangers and Trackers that they had fled from conflict, and that the third young male never managed to escape, ultimately kickstarting their journey into the male lion battlefield with only a two-man team. We were very pleased to track and find the remaining members of the pride the following day, and confirm that the third young male was alive and with them, and looked in as good condition.
This does, however, leave the two young males parted from not only their brother, but from the rest of the pride, and leaves us wondering how and why.
But maybe this separation is a good thing? This time spent without the experience and confidence of the pride’s lionesses certainly puts things into perspective for the naive males. Their sudden independence is no doubt nourishing to them but also prepares them for what is to come in the next few years. They lie at night listening to the distant roars of their fathers to the west and the Styx males to the east. Lately the two Fourways males have been spending time south of Londolozi, and there is also potential pressure from both the Matimba and Birmingham coalitions in the far north; danger surrounds them.
Whatever happened last week has caused these two young males to be split from the pride – all they can do now is wait to be reunited. Night after night they move around the property endlessly, trying to pick up the scent of the others, too cautious to call out in fear of exposing themselves to other prides or larger males. Recently they have been trailing a herd of buffalo, most likely attempting to hunt for the first time without their mothers’ guidance. This is crucial development for them as they will need to feed themselves in the years following eviction. So far they have had no luck.
It’s not looking too grim, though, as both young males seem to be coping and have a bit of a new swagger to them which we haven’t seen before. They project confidence and enthusiasm, as opposed to any fear or anxiety expected in separated youngsters. Two days ago we watched as they both stalked a Waterbuck bull through the long grass. It is evident that they are still learning as the vigilant antelope spotted them from afar and fled quickly. The young males are showing signs of quickly maturing nonetheless, suggesting that we could now be watching them seriously start coming into their own.
As time goes on, they will hopefully feed on something small before very soon being reunited with the pride and, more importantly, their brother. I think that this period spent apart will be a bit of a wake up call for the three young males and we may start noticing more independent behaviour in the next few months; if the Majingilane males don’t pressure them out any time sooner.
The Sparta Pride hasn’t stood the test of time for no reason as they have endured heavy changes and burdening pressures many times over. With the strong Majingilane genes in them, the pride’s three young males should do more than cope with this time of segregation and learn from it, putting them in good stead for the future. A future where they are going to face powerful coalitions from all directions. For now, though, we await their reunion and subsequent behaviour. They will certainly be the lions to look out for, possibly before the end of winter.
Written and photographed by Sean Cresswell, Londolozi Ranger