The movements of Londolozi’s lion prides are usually dictated by either the season or the resident male population. Lionesses might be hiding their cubs from an invading male coalition, or taking advantage of the bounty of the season wherever the prey populations are focusing. The Tsalala pride regularly did both; they split to avoid the invading Majingilane (a split from which the Mhangeni pride formed), and in the summer months they resided almost exclusively along the crests and marula clearings to the east of camp, feeding mainly on the wildebeest calves and their mothers that were drawn to the area by good grazing.
The Sparta pride used to confine their activities mainly to the Sand River during the winter months, when grazing and water were scarce, and large herbivores like buffalo and kudu in particular would often be found along the riverbanks. When the Ntsevu pride pushed the Sparta lioness out in 2016, we wondered what territory this new group of six lionesses would establish. Well so far it has mirrored almost exactly that of their predecessors. Winter time is river time, and summer generally sees more of a spread.
With the rains, the pans have filled up, water is everywhere, and prey species that were previously far more dependent on water courses for both their food and drink are well spread out across the reserve, and the Ntsevu females have started moving further afield to follow them. The cover that the riparian fringes of the Sand River provides during the dry season is now to be found everywhere in expansive bushwillow thickets grass whose leaves prevent more than a few metres sight in a straight line.
Moving far west on occasion, there has been a marked rise in sightings of the pride and their cubs since the onset of the rains, and if the trend continues, this summer could be one of our more productive in terms of lion viewing for a few years.
I don’t know what is happening to the east of the Ntsevu pride territory, out towards the Kruger Park boundary, but to the west of them the first pride they are likely to encounter is the Mhangeni pride, who drift in and our of western Londolozi. Also currently raising cubs, although not quite as many as their daughters (the Ntsevu pride was birthed by the Mhangeni females), it would be interesting to see what would happen should a clash occur, something about which we’ve speculated before. The Tsalala female had a huge run-in with the Mhangeni lionesses a few years back, so the whole mother-daughter relationship can go out the window after a few years of separation. However recognition or long-term memory works between lions, bloodlines can mean nothing when it comes to a sudden encounter, particularly if the need to protect young cubs is there.
With a good few months left before the area starts drying out and the bush opens up again, it’s more than likely that the six Ntsevu females will continue taking advantage of the burgeoning impala and wildebeest populations on Londolozi. Although mostly confining their movements to the south-eastern sectors of the reserve, the last week or two has seen them pushing further and further west, and only three days ago they were found as a full pride of six (without the cubs), which is something we haven’t seen much of over the course of the last year.
With the lion viewing on the rise, the Birmingham males still firmly in control, and 13 Ntsevu cubs regularly being seen around Londolozi, it looks like it might be a summer to remember…