With all of the recent tension around lion movements in the Sabi Sands, particularly rival coalitions of males, it is easy to forget the significance of pride dynamics for their continuation.
As seen during the infamous coalition take-over in 2010, pressures caused through new coalition presence on lion prides can lead to breakaway portions of prides which then can become permanent prides of their own. These breakaway prides form through prolonged time apart from their original members in order to escape unwanted male activity, and is the origins story of the now Mhangeni pride, breaking away from the Tsalala pride six years ago.
The well-documented presence of the Matimba males during the last half year has clearly pushed lion dynamics into an unstable state but progress is being made. Initially, the somewhat resident Tsalala pride split in order to protect their sub-adults, but the situation has changed after the Matimba males have sired two cubs into the pride. Now with dependant cubs needing protection, we may start noticing behavioural changes in the locally territorial coalition.
Following several altercations with three of the Majingilane males, the Matimba coalition of two have been covering huge distance around the central Sabi Sands and spent quite a long period of time in the far southern reaches of Londolozi only two months ago. This was a great distance away from the usual territory of the Tsalala pride and there were whisperings of the full pride reuniting once again in the Matimbas’ absence. But alas, the males returned north to find their two Tsalala lionesses close to where they had previously been spending time together, with the addition of two newborn cubs.
Since then, and for the past six weeks, the coalition has not spent much time off Londolozi and seem to be keeping a close watch over the two Tsalala lionesses and their cubs. Matimba presence has been greater than before and more localised around the Manyalethi riverbed, Sand River and its southern banks; all very close together and within the heart of Tsalala territory. Their paternal instincts have been revealed as they spend long hours scent marking and roaring in order to re-establish the surrounding areas which have seen brutal engagements between them and the Majingilanes just a few months ago.
Although the continued presence of the Matimba males may lead to a successful first year for the Tsalala’s litter, it may on the other hand prevent the remaining portion of the pride from returning at all. Could the Tsalala pride once again be the origins of another breakaway pride? Upon the Matimba coalition arrival six months ago it was the tailless female of the Tsalala pride who lead the breakaway by removing the, then two-year-old, four sub-adults from the area. The five of them have been surviving nomadically ever since, with intermittent presence along the boundaries of their original territory. Questions remain whether or not the pride with ever reunite.
With the sub-adults growing fast, a change is bound to happen. When they reach three years of age the young males will start feeling the pressure to go off together and hunt for themselves, at this age they require more food than the tailless lioness is willing to hunt for. Once they are forced away from the tailless female she will only have the young lioness to feed. From here, guesses are one of two. Either she will return to the two lionesses and help raise the new cubs, with the young lioness joining and reuniting the pride to three adults, a sub-adult and two cubs. Or, will the tailless female remain outside of Tsalala territory with the young lioness and effectively solidify a new breakaway pride? The latter is looking more likely following the birth of the cubs and the Matimba males’ subsequent presence. The question to ask is whether or not the two males will accept the young lioness into the pride, having not likely interacted with her before. Time will tell.
For the meantime, the coalition remains close to the two lionesses and their cubs, currently feeding on a Kudu bull carcass. Inevitably, their character will be tested again, whether by the mighty Majingilane, the nearing Birmingham males, or the Matshipiri males who also have recently sired cubs. All is in the balance for the fate of the Tsalala pride.