It’s hard to reconcile the idea of a small and relatively helpless lion cub with the image of that same individual growing up into a fearsome 200 kilogram beast with a flowing mane that can sever the spinal cord of a buffalo with one bite of its enormous canines. The one thought is so far removed from the other, both in time and the space it occupies in our minds, that it’s probably easier to just not make the attempt. View cubs as what they are and adult lions as what they are, and try not to connect the two in a timeline.
The reality, sadly, is that most young cubs that are viewed won’t even get the chance to grow up into full-grown buffalo hunters. Mortality rate of lion cubs in the Kruger National Park and surrounds sits at around 50% in their first year, with the figure rising to about 80% mortality overall. Imagine being born into a world in which you have only a 1 in 5 chance of survival. Long odds. Thankfully I doubt whether young lions are sat down and briefed that their chances aren’t good.
This is all leading up to my point, which is that the success rate of prides when it comes to raising cubs in the Londolozi area has been nothing short of remarkable over the last few years. The statistical significance of any study is improved by a longer study period and a larger sample size, so if one were simply to look at the last few years of lion cub mortality – or lack thereof – in the Mhangeni or Tsalala prides, one would have a seriously skewed data set. We could go into the factors for the high survival rate, but that would take some time. Suffice it to say the Majingilane dominance has been a major contributing factor.
The reason I was thinking about all this was because I was going back through some old photos this morning, kind of a ‘what happened on this day three years ago’ sort of thing, and from early January of 2014 I cam upon the photos that feature in today’s post. These pictures are of the Tsalala cubs at the time, all of which have survived (when given the odds, only one should have had an outside chance of making it) and which now form the Tsalala Breakaway pride.
When I say ‘survived’, that does not mean that things are done and dusted. For the young lioness in the breakaway pride, the odds of survival are significantly greater than for her brothers. Young males entering their nomadic phase of life still have the odds stacked against them, as they have to now survive on their own in an area in which any adult male they encounter will want to kill them. The Tsalala Breakaway males do have it easier than some, in that they are a group of three; their chances of hunting success are necessarily greater, and should they all survive the next couple of years, they stand a much greater chance of taking over and maintaining a hold on a territory than would a single male or a coalition of only two.
For the Tsalala lions as a whole, looking at both the Breakaways and core pride, it seems the crunch time is also steadily approaching. The original Tailless female died at the age of around 15, and although it was suspected that she was killed by the Tsalala breakaway females (now the adult females of the Mhangeni pride), she was nevertheless in the twilight of her life. With the current tailless female (at the moment with the Breakaway pride) and her sister (with the 6 year old lioness and their cubs) also turning 15 this year, and therefore also steadily nearing the end of their lives, the Tsalala pride – like so many times before – almost certainly seems to be approaching another crossroads.
2017 will most likely be decisive for them.