This isn’t the first time a group of lions has split from their natal pride and formed a new one. Nor will it be the last. Environmental conditions and pressures that are forever in flux mean that animals will constantly be deviating from the rule book.
Research of lion prides that have split shows that after two or three generations, when the genetic divergence between the prides is significant enough, the initial overlap of territories that most likely occurred after the split will cease, and the prides will be completely independent and isolated entities.
The Mhangeni and Ntsevu prides are a funny one. When the Ntsevu females were forced into independence once their mothers began reproducing again, they pushed east fairly quickly and ousted the much weaker Sparta pride. As a result, these six lionesses now control prime territory along the Sand River in Londolozi’s East and Mala Mala’s West.
The Mhangeni females (mothers of Ntsevu females) meanwhile have pushed their second batch of offspring into independence and are mating once more. Things are slightly different now though, as their previous males, the Majingilane, are recently deceased, which leaves the Mhangeni lionesses with scant options when it comes to dominant males. The Matimba males have reportedly moved into the western sector of the Sabi Sand reserve, but my gut feeling is that they will want to stay far west, avoiding the threat of the four Birmingham males to their east.
The Mhangeni pride, sitting on territory that essentially lies between the Birmingham males and the Matimbas’ new areas, have been forced to venture outside their usual patrol areas in order to pair up with males for mating purposes, and recently we have been seeing them coming east more and more.
At the heart of Londolozi lies what has essentially been a lion-less void for the last year or so. Although various prides have moved through, there has been no mainstay group laying claim to the area, and it forms a sort of no man’s land between the Ntsevu and Mhangeni prides. With multiple females from both groups mating with the Birmingham coalition at the moment, and the Birmingham males roaming all over the show, moving regularly between different lionesses, a clash of some sort between the lionesses seems almost unavoidable.
This leads us back to the first few points, with the key one revolving around the recognition between individuals of split prides. Just how violent would an altercation be between Mhangeni females and their daughters the Ntsevu lionesses? Would a clash over males be as serious as a clash over food? If there is nothing immediately at stake, would numbers have anything do with it (the Mhangeni pride is suspected of being down to three lionesses now, while the Ntsevu lionsees are still 6-strong). If one thinks a meeting-up would be without violence, let us not forget that the Mhangeni lionesses were suspected of killing the original Tailless female, who raised them from sub-adulthood into independence.
Every lion question poses 10 other questions, which will each in turn spark 10 more.
All I know is with a whole host of mating pairs having been viewed over the last week or so, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to identify exactly who’s who amongst the females, and as incredible as it is to witness mating lions in the wild, we can’t afford to be jumping to conclusions when it comes to identification of individuals, as the current period is likely to be a major crossroads in the futures of both prides. And, most likely, in the genetic lineages of the males.