The rather subdued roar of a male lion came from near the Londolozi airstrip early in the morning. Within minutes ranger Mrisho Lugenge had found one of the Birmingham males in company with what looked to be a Mhangeni lioness, lying on the high bank of a waterhole to the south of the Londolozi camps. After a couple of mating bouts in the thickets, they moved out towards the tarmac of the airstrip, where they would continue to mate throughout the morning, by the end of which a second mating pair had been found only a few hundred metres further west, also comprised of a Birmingham male and a Mhangeni lioness.
With the Mhangeni females starting to spend less and less time with their sub-adult offspring (exactly the same thing that they did with the Ntsevu females when they were young), it seems as though they may be looking to reproduce again.
This raises a few questions.
Firstly, why do these Mhangeni lionesses not want their female offspring to stay with them? The traditional understanding of lion prides has females remaining in the pride they are born into, adding to the hunting numbers which ultimately helps in cub survival. At least that’s the gist of it. Yet it seems like for the second time the adult Mhangeni females are about to force out what could be some potentially valuable pride-members. It’s too early to make that call, but what has been happening is a remarkable case of bush deja vu.
The best explanation I can come up with – if this is going to be the pride’s M.O. – is that the Mhangeni females themselves left their own pride at a young age. It’s too long a history to get into for now, but you can read about their formation by clicking here.
Since they would have grown up not knowing the value of retaining females in a pride, to learn and then pass on their experience to younger lionesses, it is plausible that upon their own offspring approaching maturity, they see them as competition more than anything, or at last see their responsibility towards them waning, and they are happy for them to disperse.
Please understand this is merely conjecture. I have no proof of this and am going solely on what has been observed over the last couple of years. If this means that the current female sub-adults (three of them) breakaway to form another pride, I certainly won’t be complaining. It’s just that this behaviour goes against what has been recorded as standard lion behaviour in the past.
Secondly – and this is a big one – why are two Mhangeni lionesses coming all the way east to mate with two Birmingham males? For years the pride has had the Majingilane as their dominant coalition, and both big groups of cubs (2013 and 2016) were sired by these males. Now, the lionesses are leaving their territory to mate with what for them are essentially new males. Does this mean that there is some sort of recognition that the Majingilane are well past their prime? Is this investment into what the Mhangeni females believe may be their next dominant coalition?
If trends of the past are anything to go by, the Birmingham males may well end up moving west, as we’ve seen both the Majingilane and Mapogo spending their last days as dominant males in the western sector of the Sabi Sand Reserve.
The Majingilane spread themselves very thin at one point, controlling a massive area that included practically all of Londolozi, a significant chunk of Mala Mala, eastern Singita, and territory up into the Northern Sector of the reserve. Big territory means a lot of energy expended to patrol it and control it though, so if the Birmingham males end up doing the same and taking over a territory of comparable size, we will most likely see similar behaviour to the Majingilane circa 2012-2013; a lot of vocalisation and the males covering big distances as they demarcate their boundaries.
That will certainly make for exceptional male lion viewing, but all that’s really happened so far is two Birmingham males are mating with two Mhangeni females.
It’s nice to dream though.