We posted a photo on our Instagram account yesterday of some Mhangeni sub-adults drinking peacefully together around a small rainwater puddle back in 2016. Not one sign of aggression is seen between any of the young lions, nor will one ever really see aggressive interactions around a water source (assuming it’s only drinking the lions are interested in).
Yet why would this be so?
As a resource, water is just as valuable as food.
I read on a website recently that lions have to eat everyday, but I would argue this, as we have seen prides go for significantly longer without food. Perhaps they are catching small things during the night and we aren’t seeing the results, but we’ve literally seen lions sprawled out in the same spot for three days running, which strongly suggests that nothing was caught during the hours of darkness. Yes, if lions have taken on a large meal, it will last them for awhile, but they certainly don’t need to eat everyday.
The same website argued that lions need to drink everyday. Again, not true: the desert-adapted lions of Namibia can go for much longer without drinking, as they rely heavily on the blood of their prey for their moisture intake. I don’t know what other physiological adaptations they have to survive in such an inhospitable environment, but the daily drinking thing would almost certainly be a fallacy for them.
I suppose my point in that one is simply that you mustn’t believe everything you read on the internet.
Anyway, the whole aim of the discussion today is to highlight the difference between the behaviour of lions when at a waterhole and when at a kill. At the former there is comparative calm, with only the soft lapping of tongues and water drops falling back into their source to break the silence, whereas at the latter there can be absolute carnage; snarling, biting, claws slashing, injuries, etc…
Seeing lions fighting over food for the first time can be quite an intimidating sight, yet viewing a pride drinking is quite the opposite; you almost struggle to picture the great cats as killers.
Why would lions be infinitely more peaceful around one resource and not another, when both are just as crucial to their survival.
Firstly, lions don’t have to work hard to obtain standing water. By this I mean relatively little energy was expended in the acquirement thereof; they didn’t have to stalk it, didn’t have to wait patiently while it grazed closer, and they certainly didn’t get bucked around by the water, risking their lives as they fought to subdue it, to a point where when it was finally theirs for the keeping, they felt they were owed their due. With a buffalo, yes, with water no.
The very fragility of a good water source itself might have something to do with it. Lions can be fussy drinkers, often disdaining the bigger waterholes in favour of a nearby patch of rainwater, preferring the freshness and cleanliness of the smaller source.
Any fighting and associated splashing that might be done in or around these small water patches could severely taint them, muddying them up and in some cases rendering them useless. Perhaps there has been some sort of awareness that has evolved in lions (and other predators) that makes them behave with an idea to preserving the water. However unlikely, nothing in nature is outside the realms of possibility.
Anyway, there are many possibilities here that suggest why lions act so differently at water and at food. We’ll be discussing it amongst the Ranger and Tracker Team at Londolozi; what do you think?