In September three years ago we were enjoying some of the most spectacular lion viewing in recent memory, as the newly-named Mhangeni pride with their nine cubs were spending much of their time in the north western section of Londolozi. Zebras were forming the largest part of their diet, and scarcely a week went by without them being found on a new carcass of one of the striped equines.
Being realistic about the survival chances of lion cubs in an area like the Sabi Sands, our hopes were not particularly high that all of the nine would survive (there was also a tenth that disappeared early on), but three years later and all of them are in great health.
Many of our online followers will know that the nine sub-adults (or Mhangeni breakaways as they are currently known) have been hunting buffalo with increasing success during these dry months, and in recent weeks have had their numbers bolstered by the joining of one of the Talamati males into the group. It is likely that over the next few months the young males will split permanently, ideally for their sake having the Talamati male remaining with them.
What then will happen to the six Breakaway females?
Their mothers, the adult Mhangeni lionesses, have meanwhile been reproducing again, and this time around they have no less than 12 cubs between them! Although they have been seen on Londolozi, they have been spending much of their time west of our boundary in the Sand River, using previous den-sites to stash the cubs.
The two groups of females might reunite, but personally I think that a pride of 10 big lionesses along with 12 cubs, although an absolute treat to view, will be too big an entity to be properly manageable going forward, especially given the fact that the Breakaway females have been mating and are also likely to have cubs within the year. My gut tells me that given the history of the prides in the lineage (Tsalala breaking away from Castleton pride, Mhangeni pride breaking away from the Tsalalas, and now the Mhangeni sub-adults breaking away themselves), the two groups won’t reunite permanently. The western and south-western areas of Londolozi are primed for a pride to set up a permanent territory there, and with the increased buffalo movement through the area, it is looking increasingly like the Mhangeni breakaways will be putting down roots in the region.
In terms of lion viewing, this is probably a better scenario; two prides instead of one. Two groups to track each morning. Two potential buffalo hunts to view at night.
Prides come and go, and to be there to witness the establishment of a new one is a true privilege. Whether it will happen again or not remains to be seen, but I imagine that by this time next year, the Mhangeni pride will consist only of four adult lionesses and however many cubs survive from the original twelve.
The Breakaways will most likely have a new name. What it will be remains to be decided. They have broken away, now they just have to stay away to earn the right to be named…