The Styx males were sleeping. Having been unable to stake their claim on Londolozi at the beginning of the year, they seem to have taken on a relatively nomadic existence for now, popping up in various places around the Sabi Sands and not consistently staying in any specific area. They were found by Dave Strachan and Judas Ngomane not too long ago, but were pretty inactive, and Dave and Judas left with their guests shortly afterwards.
Meanwhile, only a few hundred metres away, ranger Kevin Power had found the Tsalala pride, also wiling away the morning hours. They too were unaware of the proximity of the Styx males.
The Tsalala pride were lying near a prominent waterhole, and with the Lowveld still being in the grip of the dry season, it was almost inevitable that something would come down to drink, and it did, in the form of some buffalo bulls. Not wanting to pass up any opportunity, the adult lionesses gave chase to the big bovines, straight towards where the Styx males were lying.
The Styx males heard the commotion and raised their heads to see what was going on. Moving in to investigate, they caught sight of the big Tsalala females, and in an unexpected turn of events, turned tail and fled. This was the last thing we had anticipated, as with the Tsalala young males there, we were sure the Styx males would have wanted to chase them. Quite the reverse happened, and the Styx males ran, although they had managed to get away unseen. This was highly amusing to tracker Freddy Ngobeni and he hooted with laughter seeing these two big males acting like timid house cats.
The Tsalala pride, still unaware of the males’ presence, settled down to sleep.
We decided to try and find the males again, but after spending some time moving through the thickets in the direction they had headed, came up with nothing. Just as we were about to give up, we caught sight of the Tailless lioness trotting briskly towards where she had left her pride, about a kilometre away. Confused as to what she was suddenly doing here, we followed, hearing on the radio that ranger Sandros Sihlangu had meanwhile returned to the pride’s last position, to find them gone, and their tracks heading towards the airstrip.
We raced ahead to the airstrip, knowing the clearings around us would give us an unimpeded view, and to our excitement found the Styx males there already, frothing at the mouth and clearly in hot pursuit of the pride.
We were not sure exactly what had caused this reversal, but what was evident at the time was that the Tailless female had been trying to distract the males and lure them away from the rest of the pride. She was successful to a degree in that she bought the young lions time in which to make good their escape. Although the males pursued for a good couple of kilometres, the Tsalala pride was able to disappear into the river thickets, and after fruitlessly focusing their energies on pursuit of the Tailless female, the Styx males eventually tired and settled down to sleep in the Gwarrie thickets.
With the Matimba males moving in since this incident, as well as the Matshipiri males a little further to the south, the Tsalala pride suddenly have their backs against the wall. They have been seen way beyond the borders of their normal territory, hunting buffalo near the Sand River. Can they keep ahead of any pursuit? They have been seemingly down and out on many occasions in the past. Will the next few months be just another chapter in their ongoing saga, or will they ultimately prove decisive…?
Co-Written by Talley Smith and James Tyrrell, Londolozi Rangers
Photographed by Mark Millikan-Smith, Londolozi Guest
Filmed by Cameron Engelbrecht, Londolozi Ranger