Once more the roars of three lions, not two, were heard in the chill dawn air. It could only be the Majingilane.
Waking at intervals through the night, like a diver occasionally coming up for air, it was a relatively simple thing for many of the rangers and trackers to chart the progress of the Majingilane as the lions marched in from the north-west, bellowing as they came. Assembling on deck before sunrise, the conversation amongst guides and guests was naturally going to lean towards the current lion dynamics and the ever-more-frequent forays of the three Majingilane back into the Londolozi heartland. Hearing their roaring swell in volume and then recede as dawn approached, it was a relatively straightforward thing for the field team to isolate the area in which they were, and it wasn’t long before Callum Gowar and Shadrack Mkhabela found them moving steadily through the thickets to the south of the Maxabene riverbed.
This time, however, something was different. The battle-hardened faces bore fresh cuts. Blood dripped off the chin of the Dark-Maned male, and the male with the scar nose showed similar signs of a battering. Gone was the aura of invincibility that these lions have long worn like a cloak.
The honest truth is that these males aren’t looking like the invincible group they once were.
Obviously being one-down from their previous make-up has made them more vulnerable, but their reactions to what is happening around them are slowly starting to lose that competitive edge. Yesterday morning the two Avoca males were found, again in company with two Ntsevu lionesses, and the Majingilane’s line of march came directly from where the younger males had been. We had assumed that a large part of the reason the Majingilane have been coming back has been to establish a buffer between their territory and the encroachment of the Avoca pair, yet yesterday morning, when a loud series of growls from an interaction between the Avoca males and one of the lionesses was heard, the Majingilane simply continued on their way without reacting. And the growling wasn’t that far off.
I remember back in 2011 when they were newly dominant, and tracker Like Gumede trailed them down to the southern parts of Londolozi in 45 minutes of brilliant track following and anticipation; all four Majingilane were together, when suddenly in the distance we heard the roar of another male lion. Four heads shot up, and within seconds the coalition was in full charge in the direction of the roar, which from the sounds of it was at least a couple of kilometres away. We soon lost them in the Dichrostachys thickets as they continued at full speed, but my point is how they reacted to the slightest hint of the presence of another male; with instant aggression. Yesterday morning they didn’t.
If they are coming back now to ward off the encroachment of the Avoca males, why were they simply retreating yesterday morning, when the Avoca males were still nearby, and audible.
In terms of the Ntsveu lionesses, mating with them would not be the genetic first prize for the Majingilane, as the six females are their daughters. Inbreeding in lions is not uncommon, but obviously not ideal for the continued genetic health of a population. After many months without contact, just how much recognition there might be between the Majingilane and the Ntsevu lionesses is difficult to say, but an encounter would very likely be approached with hesitancy by both sides.
This takes us back to the buffer theory, and the Majingilane simply trying to establish a sort of no-mans land between their core territory and any other threat.
I guess the only real question now is who were they really fighting with to sustain such gashes? The Avoca males seemed relatively unscathed yesterday morning. Reports of the sound of lions fighting east of Mala Mala Main Camp reached us, and we know the Matshipiri males had been somewhere in the area. The Birmingham males have also been seen a couple of times pushing south onto Londolozi soil, so cannot be ruled out, especially given the distances that male lions can walk through the night.
Many facial cuts sustained by male lions – and indeed lions in general – are received when fighting amongst each other over carcasses, but the presence of this coalition far out of their usual territory, roaring through the night, tied in with the sounds of lions scrapping, all seem to point towards a confrontation of some kind with rivals.
With the Matshipiri coalition seemingly broken, and no-one yet having witnessed an actual Majingilane-Avoca clash, this all just conjecture until something more concrete is seen.