Two years and a couple of weeks ago we ran a post on what looked to be the imminent approach of a clash between the Sparta and Mhangeni prides.
As it turns out, a clash did occur, but as with many encounters between predators in the wild, it was not witnessed by any human eye, and we were left only to view the aftermath.
The aftermath, as it turned out, was an adult lioness with an injured paw and a sub-adult male with bad gashes in his flank and spine. A couple of weeks later, owing primarily to malnutrition, this young lion succumbed to his wounds.
As in other facets of life, human or animal, timing is everything, and it was this young male’s bad luck that he was injured during the height of the summer birthing season. Although this may sound a bit paradoxical, as there would seemingly be a bounty of food in the form of wildebeest calves and impala lambs, the young male was unable to reap the benefits of a surplus of young prey animals, as he was unable to hunt for himself, and any kills the pride made he was unable to share in. The kills were invariably so small as to be little more than a snack, torn asunder by the pride almost immediately, with the injured young lion limping gamely along behind inevitably arriving too late to share in the spoils. Lions can recover from horrific wounds if they receive the nutrition their bodies require, but in the case of the young male it was not to be, and descending vultures led tracker Andrea Sithole and ranger Greg Pingo to discover his carcass early in 2014.
The Sparta pride was down by one.
The rest of 2014 was relatively smooth for the Sparta pride and they suffered no further losses. The most significant change in the dynamics of the pride was the slow retreat of the Majingilane westwards, with the Sparta lions being left more and more in a coalition vacuum. As of April that year the Majingilane coalition were still in attendance on the pride, but by year-end they were as good as gone, and the incursions of they Styx, Fourways and Matshapiri males began.
A prediction I made at the time (April 2014) about the Majingilane spending more and more time with the Sparta pride as the adult lionesses came back into oestrus was entirely misplaced, as it seems the overwhelming necessity to consolidate territory superseded any desire they may have had to mate with the Sparta lionesses.
I suppose the fracturing of the pride as the young males were chased out by new coalitions was inevitable. What remains a mystery is the death of one of the older lionesses. Her carcass was discovered south of our boundary, and cause of death will remain unknown. Having said that, she was in the territory of a rival pride and a coalition unknown to her, so it would not be stretching the imagination too much to think that other lions killed her.
As it stands now the Sparta pride has only three females (two adults and one of about 3 1/2 years) who are spending the bulk of their time east of our boundary under the protection of the Matshapiri males. Reports are that one of the lionesses is secreting two very small cubs in a drainage line just east of the Sand River, but they have yet to be brought onto Londolozi.
As for the sub-adult males, two haven’t been reported in a while. They were last seen south of Londolozi, but its quite possible they have made their way into the Kruger National park by now. The third male, I and many of the other rangers are convinced, has joined the Mhangeni pride and is still with them. Although some are skeptical of the identity of this male, photographic evidence certainly points to his identity as being one of the three sub-adults that left the Sparta pride this year. If so, it seems he has certainly landed himself in a better situation than the other two males who left the pride with him!
And the Mhangeni pride themselves? It seems that since early 2013, this pride has only been on the up. Although they aren’t viewed on Londolozi as consistently as we would like (only the eastern sector of their territory is on our property) they are still very fortunate in that the bulk of their territory is still controlled by the Majingilane. The pride is entering a new period of change in that at least one and possibly two of the lionesses are believed to be denning very small cubs somwehere, and it is likely that the other two adult lionesses will be in oestrus soon, if not already, furthering the possibility of more cubs on the way. Although the younger lions in the pride are certainly big enough to hunt on their own, especially as there are so many of them, from recent observations it seems that without the leadership of the adult females, they struggle a bit, and I have seen them seemingly directionless on more than one occasion recently.
Ultimately the most important factor in the stability of prides is the male dynamic. The Majingilane are ageing in the west. There are only two Matshipiri males. The Matimbas control very little territory. The Birmingham male threat is looming…
How will the new year be ushered in for the Sparta and Mhangeni prides…?
Written and Photographed by James Tyrrell