We mentioned yesterday in TWIP how the lone Ottawa male has been prowling around, mainly in the north of Londolozi. At only three-and-a-half years old (to my knowledge he was born in early 2015) he is far from full size and strength, yet in his continued tagging along behind the Mhangeni lionesses he is starting to place himself into mortal danger from the Birmingham males.
A few days ago the Tsalala lioness was with a single Birmingham male in the Sand River, just upstream from the Londolozi camps. As dusk fell, the pair split up; the male headed back to his brother(s) and the lioness was remained in the riverbed, moving downstream in front of camp, roaring.
The next morning she was still close by, vocalising pretty consistently, we suspect for the male.
Barely 500m from her, and less than 200m from where the Birmingham male had been the night before, two Mhangeni females were found by ranger James Souchon and tracker Richard Mthabine, lying on the northern bank of the river. We joined the sighting a few minutes later, and circling around the lionesses to get a better view from up on the bank, we were surprised to find the Ottawa male standing about 50m from them, nervously staring in their direction.
They seemed aware of his presence, as only a few minutes later the lionesses descended to the riverbed with the male slowly trailing behind, and neither female seemed concerned when he came out into the open. One of the lionesses would roar occasionally; either she was vocalising defiance to the Tsalala female downstream, or she was communicating with the Birmingham coalition.
What was surprising was the fact that the Ottawa male began scent-marking; rubbing his face in a bush and urinating. This behaviour is usually associated with territorial males, and is a risky thing for a young lion to be doing.
That same day, late in the afternoon, two of the Birmingham males (one of whom had been with the Tsalala female the night before) were in central Londolozi. One of them was staring fixedly to the north, in the direction of where the Mhangeni lioness had been calling in the morning. We don’t know exactly what information is conveyed in a lion’s roar, but whatever it was, as night fell the Birmingham pair got up and began a steady march up towards the Sand River. By 22:00 they had entered a dense thicket line just SW of the Londolozi camps, and ranger Alex Jordan was forced to abandon his attempt to follow them, as it was impossible to get a vehicle through one of the stream beds that the lions crossed. They were making a bee-line towards where they had heard the Mhangeni female roaring that morning. In the roaring was she simply giving her position, or was she in any way indicating the presence of the Ottawa male? Impossible to say…
What the Birmingham males found when they got to where the lionesses had been is anyone’s guess. At that stage no one was with the lionesses and Ottawa male, and they may have been long gone by the time the Birmingham males arrived. What we do know is that the Birmingham males were responding quietly towards the area, without roaring, which is what males are known do when they are aware of the presence of another male, and don’t want their approach to be known.
They may simply have been moving in to join the lionesses and had no idea that the Ottawa male was there, but I’m sure that once they arrived at the spot they would have caught his scent. Lions can tell a lot about other lions from pheromones in the urine, and from the scent-mark the Ottawa male left, the two Birminghams would have instantly been able to establish what type of threat he represented, which we presume is minimal. Upon catching the scent of a rival, males have been known to give chase immediately, and maybe that even happened last night; there was no sign of any of the males this morning.
Whatever happened, the presence of a rival male with lionesses that they have been mating with will certainly be unwelcome by the Birmingham coalition. Years ago the Majingilane went on the hunt when they heard the young Southern Pride males roaring, and after 48 hours they caught and killed one of them. I’m not saying the same thing will happen here, but with the ominous and silent approach by the Birmingham males that was witnessed last night, the Ottawa male would be best advised to make himself scarce.