Lions are the only social cats, relying on their pride for hunting support and protection.
Many aeons ago they were solitary though, and have evolved their social nature over millenia, so what happens when individuals are all by themselves for prolonged periods of time?
Case in point, the Tsalala lioness.
Without a pride, this lioness has had to fend entirely for herself, but as incredible a story as hers is, this is not en entirely novel situation for a lioness to find herself in.
Females that give birth regularly isolate themselves from their pride, although sometimes they don’t have a choice in the matter. Keeping tiny cubs in a den, they generally have to base themselves at or near that den, hunting alone for the most part, unless the pride happens to be nearby. If the pride is operating on the far side of their territory, the lioness may be on her own for well over a week or more.
The Tsalala lioness has no pride, so her situation is set to continue indefinitely, or at least until offspring of hers (two of the cubs are apparently female) grow up and become fully fledged pride members.
She has therefore had to fully embrace her solitary lifestyle, which means a few subtle changes in her food-procuring strategy.
She is hunting far more in the day, for one thing. Although this may well be the legacy of her mother and grandmother – both of who were renowned for daytime hunting – it is behaviour far more akin to the local leopard population.
Her hunting techniques have also had to be adjusted. Whilst before she was able to rely on other pride members to help her in circular ambush hunts, now she is having to rely far more on direct stalk-and-pounce.
Scavenged food forms a far larger part of lions’ diets than many people realise, and the Tsalala female is no exception. Although we regularly see lions (lionesses far more than the males) climbing trees to rob leopards, the Tsalala lioness seems to be going up every second tree on the reserve. If the faintest smell of an old carcass happens to be detected around a tree, she will almost certainly go up it; she simply can’t afford to pass up the slightest opportunity for a meal.
The lioness recently moved her litter of three down into the Sand River, to an inaccessible island that we aren’t able to view them on.
The wisdom of this move is questionable, as up on the koppie where they were previously being kept it seemed as though they had many more hiding places, and down in the river the chances of an errant leopard or hyena stumbling upon the den is almost certainly higher.
What happens, happens, and we’ll just have to await events. As usual.