Happy 4th July to all of our readers from the US!
Whilst independence is a cause for celebration in not only the USA but in many other countries around the world, in the African bush it takes on a far more sinister note. Independence, particularly for predators, is a time in which the relative blanket of safety – even if only illusory – provided by their mothers is lifted, and real life begins.
For male lions, this independence may well be the toughest challenge of their lives. Despite having survived infancy, which in itself is fraught with danger, and then adolescence, by far the toughest trial a male lion will undergo is the period between leaving its natal pride and eventually establishing a territory of its own. No longer is a much larger dominant male defending the area in which you live against rivals. No longer is an efficient team of lionesses bringing down regular meals for you; meals that are often far beyond the capabilities of your as yet inadequate strength.
Going from having the roars of your fathers in the night being representative of a safety net, to having almost every roar you hear representing a male who will be at the least intolerant and at the worst your mortal nemesis must be quite a thing for a young male lion to adjust to, whether he’s by himself or part of a larger coalition.
When male lions reach an age of roughly three years (although this can vary significantly), they are either pushed out of their pride through increased intolerance by their father(s) or a takeover by another coalition will force them out. They now enter a period of what will usually be at least a couple of years through which they will have to survive until they are big enough to attempt to take over a territory of their own. A common question asked by visitors to Londolozi is why don’t we see as many male lions as females, and the stark truth of the matter is a large number of newly independent males simply do not make it to adulthood. Everywhere they go involves avoiding the dominant males of the area, wherever that may be, living from day to day in the hope of making it to that magical age of 5-6 years which is when they typically began challenging for territory. A fair number of them are killed by these older and bigger males.
Male lions of similar ages in a pride will usually leave the pride together and form a coalition; a group of males will have a far greater chance of eventually taking over territory – and maintaining control over it – than an individual. This is evidenced in recent history by the Mapogo, Majingilane and Matimba coalitions, all coalitions of four and more who succeeded in taking over and controlling large territories.
This brings me to my next point, and the whole reason for this post: the young Tsalala males. We’ve run a number of posts on them over the last half year or so, all speculating about what their fate will be, and it finally seems as if the day of reckoning is approaching. The last week has seen some interesting movement from the breakaway part of the Tsalala pride (Tailless female and four sub-adults), with two of the young males crossing back into Londolozi from the northern parts of the Sabi Sands, and the Tailless female, the sub-adult female and a single sub-adult male being found two mornings ago on the western fence-line! Whatever has been happening east of us in terms of male lion dynamics (generally the cause of major pride disruptions) must be drastic to have caused such a wide separation of the two groups.
Reports indicate that two of the young males have in fact been operating independently for awhile, which raises the question of why the third male continues to remain with the Tailless female. Ultimately his security will lie with his brothers (the sub-adults are all from the same litter), and it behoves him to operate with them if he (and they) are to stand a chance of attaining adulthood.
They will be three years old this year, and my gut feel is that by Christmas they will no longer be moving around with the females; whether the single male joins up with his brothers and they splinter off as a three remains to be seen. What I am also confident of is that by the time they reach an age at which they are able to claim a territory (if they reach such an age), the Matimba males and Majingilane will both be gone.
Who knows, maybe they could do what the Mapogo once did and move back to lay claim to the territory of their birth.
The best (and worst) thing about the lion dynamics is that the answers are never clear-cut and the future is impossible to predict. I suppose that’s the reason we’re always wanting to know more…