It’s quite a sight. Any lion in the wild is a sight enough to immediately get the adrenaline flowing and therefore a pride of lions is a sight which can even be overwhelming. To see a tightly woven family structure consisting of confident lionesses and their offspring, as one unit, brings a sudden realisation of their predatory ability and potential power in numbers. This is present even more so in the Mhangeni pride made up of an impressive thirteen individuals.
Before anything else is said about this pride I feel obliged to praise their success, as has been done many times before, by updating that all nine of their early-2013 youngsters are still alive and present with the lionesses. This almost unprecedented feat still manages to capture my disbelief, especially in an area where the majority of lion cubs born are not expected to survive their first two years. On the fast approach to three years of age, the now sub-adults have had their few experiences of being split from each other as well as from the lionesses many times, and each new sighting of them finds the rangers and trackers eagerly counting on our fingers with expectation of falling short of thirteen. This continues not to be the case. And despite more than one unfamiliar and non-paternal coalitions finding their way through Mhangeni territory at any given time, the survival of all nine youngsters is an ongoing celebration.
Pride dynamics are incredibly scattered at the moment. The Matimba males are regularly occupying Tsalala pride territory and sending the pride scattered throughout the northern properties. Frequent visits from the Matshipiri males and the Sparta lionesses further south, have meant that the Mhangeni pride have had dangerous surroundings recently.
Up until two weeks ago, there was huge concern over the Mhangeni pride’s survival as their tracks indicated two, and at times even three, separate portions of meandering groups attempting to find each other after a possible run-in with the marauding Matimba males. Eventually, and to our relief, one morning brought us a beautiful rediscovery of the pride in full force, finishing off the remains of a very large buffalo (only just enough food for the four lionesses and already sizeable youngsters), all looking pleased to be back together and with somewhat full bellies.
Since then, the pride has interestingly moved far east, steadily exploring the currently vacant Tsalala territory; the original homeland and birthplace of the four lionesses before the 2010 breakaway. Despite the Matimba males both being along the banks of the Sand River for the entirety of this week, the Mhangeni pride has remained nearby, in the central property, hunting every night.
This may just be an opportunistic act of adventure and exploration into an otherwise occupied territory, and the pride may return back into the west any day. But for now, it is a privilege to have fairly regular sights of a powerful pride making history. A pride which keeps the team guessing but continues to inspire us with their unbreakable unity and commitment to succession.
Written by Sean Cresswell, Londolozi Ranger
Photographed by Sean Cresswell and Callum Gowar