One of the most powerful entities I have seen during my time at Londolozi is a strongly bonded, and successful, pride of lions. A good example is the mighty Mhangeni pride. It always seems to astound me that this pride exists today when you consider the odds they came from. Lets consider their history…
These females, of which there are four today, were born into the Tsalala pride. In 2008 the original tailless female, who is no longer with us, and her two daughters gave birth to three litters which totaled eight cubs. Four were males and four were female- the offspring of the Mapogo. These cubs were very unfortunate to be born into the final years in the Mapogo reign, as the Majingilane arrived in 2010 with force. One of the first things they did after discarding the Mapogo, was to brutally assert their dominance over the Tsalala pride. These females were not yet ready to mate and, as such, the Majingilane set their sights on the 8 young lions. The four males were unfortunate not to escape but, in an heroic effort, the tailless female gathered her young daughters and granddaughters and fled west. The remaining two females submissively mated with the Majingilane and distracted their attention, thus giving their pride a chance to flee.
The original tailless female was a force to be reckoned with. With her experience and resolve, she managed to single handedly raise the four young females to maturity. You can only imagine the delight of the field team at Londolozi when five magnificent mature Lionesses returned to Londolozi in 2012. These females were now ready to take on the world. Due to the separation from the Tsalala females who had mated in 2010, these four young females had built a formidable bond and become a unstoppable hunting unit. Consequently they did not rejoin their original pride. They came back seeking the attention of the Majingilane which resulted in an encounter that was aggressive, like before, but in a different way. They wanted to mate with the now established Majingilane.
In early 2013 the four females gave birth to the current 9 young lions that roam around today. Was this the beginning of a Super Pride? This last week, tracker Joy Mathebula, ranger Sean Cresswell and tracker Rob Hlatswayo tracked the pride an estimated 8kms that they had travelled the night before. We came across 13 well sized lions spread out in a clearing attempting to hunt a dazzle of zebra, and it seemed as though there was a lion crouched behind every bush, tensed to pounce in a synchronized fashion as only a well disciplined pride can. After narrowly missing their prey, they all rejoined fondly. I could not help but be amazed at the sight before me. 13 large lions rubbing up against each other. It was intimidating. After getting over my initial emotion, we noticed that they all had slightly extended bellies. There was also a distinct glow of pink on their chests and chins. These Lions had already made a kill that morning, which was probably something small like an impala or a young wildebeest. It is hard not to get emotional when I see what the pride has become. I am overwhelmed with a sense of pride. Pun intended.
It will be interesting to monitor their movements in the upcoming months. They seem to travel vast distances every night and their success rates in hunting are soaring through the roof. Will this be a sustainable situation though? I know prides get much larger but the competition is fierce when prey is caught, especially if they target larger prey than impala. You also have to consider that there are 5 young females and only 4 young males. How much longer will the Majingilane tolerate the young males? Also the number of mouths to feed will grow exponentially in two years when the 5 young females start mating along with the older four. This will mean there are 9 mature and breeding lioness. An interesting dynamic indeed, which may lead to another litter from the older four before 2017. Who knows how many lions will make up the Mhangeni pride then. I can hardly contain my excitement. What a privilege it has been to watch this pride form. I hope to see them flourish in the years to come.
Written by Daniel Buys- Head Ranger