With the lion dynamics in a bit of disarray at the moment, an incredible sighting we witnessed a few days ago may be the beginning of long overdue reunion of the Tsalala pride sisters. Alex Jordan detailed the current dynamics of the two prides, the Tsalala pride and Tsalala Breakaway pride, in an earlier blog.
Following on from that, an already incredible sighting of this pride hunting turned into something a whole lot more and gives us a bit of hope for the Tsalala females and their youngsters.
After hearing reports of the three Tsalala lionesses around Finfoot Crossing earlier that day, we made it our plan for the afternoon to head down to the river and see if they were still in the area. As the sun was nearing the horizon and the temperatures gently decreasing we arrived at the palm thickets where they had been reported as still sleeping, and were excited to find them with their heads up.
Knowing that the chances of seeing them move were increasingly in our favour as the afternoon cooled, we settled in to wait. We didn’t have to wait long..
Keeping her gaze constant towards a point beyond our vehicle, the younger female seemed intent on something on the northern bank of the river (the lions were on the southern bank). As we too turned to look in that direction, we saw a single young impala ewe walking steadily towards us, straight into what would become a gauntlet of death. The ewe made its way fairly cautiously through the river, slightly upstream from the lions, who by now had already begun the stalk. The younger lioness slinked down onto the edge of the river bank, her light coat camouflaged against the shaded river sand. The two older females made their way behind the dense palm thickets to establish an ambush.
As the ewe neared the bank and the now narrowed escape route, the younger lioness set off from her mark, spooking the impala which had no option but to flee down the narrowed pathway. The ambush worked perfectly as the impala now came face to face with two fierce killing machines in the form of the older sisters hurtling at her from out of the thickets. Making a quick U-turn, the impala’s only chance of escape was to hurdle a small shrub in the direction of Alex Jordan’s vehicle. Unfortunately, as it completed its jump, the impala landed in a hole and lost its footing. The lioness that was hot on its tail landed on top of it, ending the chase almost as soon as it began. The other two lionesses arrived very soon after and also latched on to the kill.
The competition between lions at the kill spurs bouts of extreme aggression and spine chilling vocalisations, all of which echoed down the riverbed. Instead of attracting hyenas to come and investigate, to our surprise, the three subadults of the pride – who had been missing for a few days – came running down the bank on the other side of the river; they must have lying somewhere close by. Further upstream the young Tsalala breakaway cub now appeared as well. Without hesitation all of them piled in to the ferocious feline tussle, each trying to secure their own meal.
A tug of war ensued over whichever body part each lion had in its mouth. Eventually, the various limbs detached, and each party went their own way with their prize. Somehow the smallest cub managed to secure secured the largest meal, and the three subadults only managed to get the scraps, not helping their already fairly lean appearance.
After consuming the entire carcass together, there was still a small divide as the three subadults lay near their mother but still slightly separate. With high hopes we wished for a reunion and thought it would be likely. However, that evening to our disappointment they seemed to have separated again but are hanging around in very similar areas. With some luck we will hopefully see them rejoin in the near future.
A lot of questions still remain unanswered as to why the pride seems to have abandoned these youngsters at such an early age. Along with this are as yet substantiated reports of the missing 6-year-old lioness and missing cub who were reported on a kill to the north of Londolozi. We are still trying to establish what the real story is, so look out for another Tsalala update in the near future.
Footage by Alex Jordan