Things are getting slightly confusing on the lion front these days.
Whereas in years past territorial lines amongst the Lions of Londolozi have – at least for the most part – been fairly well established, what happens when a pride starts fragmenting and its various members start popping up all over the place? This is currently happening to the Mhangeni pride, as the senior females are all entering their second round of attempting to raise cubs, the sub-adults seem to split off and then rejoin on a whim, and to be quite frank, it’s getting hard to tell who’s who as individual lionesses turn up by themselves in the most unexpected areas.
Followers of the Londolozi blog will remember a time in 2013 during which the newly-named Mhangeni Pride were raising nine small cubs. Incredibly, it seems as though all nine of those youngsters are still alive and well (they were seen together yesterday), which is an almost unprecedented survival rate in lion cubs in the wild. The adult Mhangeni females’ split from the Tsalala pride has been well documented, and the question we are now asking is whether or not we are going to see a breakaway pride forming from this breakaway pride? Who broke away from a pride which was also a breakaway pride. Ok this is starting to really get tricky.
To sum it up briefly though, back in 1998 the Tsalala pride formed as a split from the Castleton pride. Then the Mhangeni pride formed as a split from the Tsalalas. Will the current Mhangeni sub-adults end up forming their own breakaway group, or will they eventually rejoin their mothers?
As it stands at the moment, the current sub-adults (roughly three years old and nine-strong, of which six are female and three are male) are spending a lot of time on their own, away from the adults. A day or two ago they were found with two zebra kills in the southern part of their territory. Once their mothers are firmly ensconced in raising their next batches of cubs, a rejoining of the two groups could potentially see a pride of 13 adults and soon-to-be adults, with a whole host of cubs trailing along in their wake.
Of the adult females themselves, I believe two are currently raising cubs; one has a litter of two, the other a litter of four. Two of the adults were found yesterday morning near Londolozi’s western boundary. One had been nursing cubs in the last hour as evidenced by suckle marks on her belly, and the other was reported to be heavily pregnant.
A few days prior to this, one of the sub-adult females was seen being followed by one of the Matimba males. He was attempting to mate with her, but after she repulsed him numerous times in the morning she eventually seemed to relent towards evening. And before that, three of the sub-adult females were found in Londolozi’s central grasslands, alone. Where the rest of the sub-adults were, we are not sure. Over the past month though, there have been multiple sightings of individual members of the pride or small groups of them, with very few sightings of the bulk of the pride together.
The fact that some of the adult lionesses are denning cubs probably accounts for a great deal, as lionesses are well known to operate in relative isolation whilst keeping cubs at a den, and they will hunt in the den’s proximity while the pride patrols the rest of their territory. Denning females will often rejoin the pride to hunt, but if the bulk of the group is operating too far from the den, the distance they need to cover back and forth becomes prohibitive.
For the most part the nursing females have been keeping their litters in and around the Sand River close to Taylor’s Crossing, on Londolozi’s western boundary, moving them upstream and down as the mood dictates. The sub-adults on the other hand have been spending a large amount of time further south, hunting buffalo in the grasslands.
So what now for these lions, and what do I think? Well, the one constant I’ve found in all the lion updates I’ve written over the years is that the conclusion is the hardest part to come up with. I guess that goes without saying because there is no real conclusion, nor will there ever be. Maybe in the lives of individual lions, but in the dynamics of the area as a whole, never.
So I’m sure we’ll be writing in the next few months to report that other Mhangeni lionesses have had cubs, one or two are unaccounted for, the sub-adult males have been chased off by new males entering from the Kruger Park, the whole pride took down a buffalo on such-and-such a day, and in each of those updates there won’t be a conclusion either. There will be speculation, sure, and multiple theories thrown out (Paul Tonks I bet you’re chuckling at this!), but the beauty of it is that whatever we say and whatever conjectures we may come up with, it won’t make one iota of difference to the way these awesome big cats live out their lives.
All we can do is spectate.