It wasn’t that long ago that I posted a blog about one of the Sparta males trying to ingratiate himself into the Tsalala Pride.
It wasn’t long after that post that the male disappeared from the area for awhile, and Patrick Hutter reported in a comment that the male had joined the Mhangeni pride out in the west of the reserve. We wouldn’t have to wait long before we could confirm that for ourselves.
On the night of September 12th the Mhangeni pride crossed into Londolozi and encountered a hippo not far from the Sand River. Whether or not the hippo was dead already we will never know, but when the pride was discovered in the morning they had consumed most of the meat around his head. In the dry season hippo bulls engage in constant battle for prime waterholes or river pools, and as in most battles, there are casualties. Some males die from their wounds and some are so injured as to fall easy prey to a big pride of lions. Whether the pride killed it or found it dead doesn’t really matter, what matters is how many lions there were.
Tracker Judas Ngomane, one of the first on the scene in the morning, was surprised yet encouraged to count 14 lions present. The Mhangeni pride had been 13 strong for a long time (four adult females and nine sub-adults), until an encounter with rival lions in the north of the reserve split them up for awhile. It was in the weeks following this split that things got confusing, with small groups of lions appearing at random all over the show, then disappearing before we could make any sense of their movements.
Who now was this 14th lion that Judas counted? A quick study of his features and a comparison of recent photos revealed that he was indeed the Sparta young male.
Scarred all over and with a nervous look in his eyes, he nevertheless seemed far more at ease with the Mhangeni pride than he had with the Tsalala pride, and indeed they with him. Perhaps the youthfulness of the pride or the certain knowledge that they had far superior numbers contributed to this, perhaps the Tsalala lionesses – who have lost many, many cubs over the years – were too highly strung to accept this new potential threat to the current young lions in the pride. I don’t know the answer. But if the young Sparta male remains with the Mhangeni pride for the forseeable future, he has a much better chance of survival than he ever would have with the Tsalala pride, at least in my opinion. The males in the Mhnageni pride are a few months older than the Tsalala males, and the majority of the Mhangeni pride’s territory is still controlled by the Majingilane, their fathers, who provide some kind of safeguard. The Tsalala pride on the other hand is currently dealing with the insurgence of the Matimba males, and the Sparta young male would necessarily share the pride’s woes were he with them.
I haven’t seen the Mhangeni pride or the Sparta male for a while now. Their tracks were on our western boundary two mornings ago but crossed over, away from Londolozi.
I sincerely hope that when they return the Sparta male is still with them. His two brothers are apparently in the far south east of the Sabi Sands, a world away, but in my opinion the best thing he could do is remain with the Mhangeni pride. When it comes time for the young males to leave, chased out by the Majingilane or other males, they can leave as a group of four, instead of three like the original Sparta male coalition of this year.
Far better odds in the Sabi Sands…
Written and Photographed by James Tyrrell