It’s been many, many months since the regular calls of the Majingilane came reverberating down into camp from up at the airstrip.
Being serenaded by lions during dinner was a common occurrence, but with the changing of the guard leading into unstable times as far as the male lion dynamics were concerned, no coalition stuck around long enough to be a constant presence on central Londolozi.
The Matimba males would vocalise now and then, but without the numbers of the Majingilane, and the fact that they were mostly patrolling together, their inter-coalition communication was nothing close to that of their dominant predecessors.
A large part of the Majingilane’s vocalisations would have simply been one member of the coalition communicating with the others, something you are only ever likely to need as a big coalition that is constantly separated.
With the Birmingham males – a group of 4 – that is quite possibly what we can expect as they extend the limits of their territory further and further westward.
A recent sighting of three of these males placed them right in the south-western corner of Londolozi, far from their Sand River stronghold in the east. In fact their initial discovery resulted in some confusion, as in the long grass in which they were lying it was hard to get a clear ID, and the males most recently spending time in that area as a group of three was the Majingilane. As soon as they stood up however, the difference was clear.
Efforts to find them again that evening were unsuccessful. Only a distant roar was heard while one of the rangers had stopped for drinks, but the endless grasslands and round-leaf teak thickets had effectively swallowed them up come nightfall.
The next morning, tracks gave away the direction that two of them had moved in; a huge loop up western Londolozi, eventually making their way back past the Londolozi camps where they were spotted by one of the habitat team (whose name, in a wonderful bit of irony, happens to be Lion) late in the morning.
Seeing two big males moving in bright sun when the temperatures are rising rapidly is unusual, but it may well have just been the two lions’ firm intent to make their way back into more familiar territory. Roars had been heard early in the morning in the direction they had come from, but tracks led down into some reed thickets in the Sand River where following with a vehicle would have been impossible. We are fairly confident that the vocalisations had come from the same pair who eventually ended up near the airstrip.
A male lion population distributes itself in an almost Brownian motion-like manner. Clashes with other lions result in them bouncing around, and they will move in a direction until coming up against a reason not to do so anymore (read: other males). The Birmingham males I am confident are not hearing the roaring of a dominant coalition to their west, and so naturally move in that direction, in so doing filling up territory left vacant by the Majingilane. This is almost a carbon copy of what the Majingilane did when they took over from the Mapogo, if not quite as dramatic or violent.
If I was a betting man, I’d put good odds on the Birmingham males having control of the vast majority of Londolozi by the end of the year.