A pair of sub-adult male lions have been hanging around Londolozi of late, getting into a bit more trouble than they bargained for.
I’ll be the first to admit that I am poor when it comes to identifying anything but the most distinctive looking lions. The injured Birmingham male I recognize immediately. Who wouldn’t? At least four of the Ntsevu lionesses I will also be able to ID, as well as the Tsalala female, but beyond that, things start to get confused quite quickly. At least for me.
Part of the reason is that lions have big territories, so come and go quite a bit more than the resident leopards. We have far less reason to associate lions with specific areas, although it is at least something to go on. Prides split and pop up in the oddest of places, and a number of prides that don’t visit Londolozi too often are made up of numbers that I’ve been pretty bad at keeping track of.
I can’t tell you offhand how many are in the Styx or Nkahuma Prides (a rough guess would be my best effort), and the Mhangeni pride and lions from the Southern pride have both been making appearances in the same areas, so two nomadic males like the ones we saw recently left a few of us scratching our heads as to exactly where they were from (anyone reading this who knows them please let me know in the comments below).
That’s besides the point though, as what I want to focus on is the same expression that is found across the board on young, nomadic lions.
It’s a look of fear, bewilderment, anxiety and awful memories all combined into one.
It’s the haunted expression you read about in those who have witnessed something particularly traumatic, and the reality for many of these young males, is that they have.
Most will have been chased out of their pride by force, either by their fathers or interlopers, and most will be hanging on for dear life. The roars of any male they hear are likely to be those of a male who would want to kill them, so they have every right to look harried.
In last Friday’s TWIP I mentioned a giraffe kill that some of the Ntsevu pride ended up on. On a still winter’s evening sound travels far, and it just so happened that the two young males in question heard the distant growling of the pride squabbling over the carcass and went to investigate. A few rangers had gone to sit at the scene from about 21:00 in case the Birmingham males showed up, but what they didn’t expect was the two young nomads to come creeping out of the bushes, cautiously approaching to see if there was the chance of an easy meal.
Needless to say, with six adult Ntsevu lionesses there, their adrenalin pumping as they fought over the giraffe and 8 cubs with them to protect, there wasn’t.
The lionesses caught sight of the approaching males and – from eye-witness accounts – tore into them en masse in what for the young males must have felt like an apocalyptic act of aggression. Their worlds must have seemed like they had ended in that onslaught of unbelievable fury, as four lioness cornered the male with a slightly thicker mane and nearly tore him to pieces. His brother meanwhile was savaged by the other two females, and within less than a minute the nomads had fled for their lives into the night, hotly pursued by the lionesses to make sure they really had gone.
And we haven’t seen them since.
For young males, encounters like that must play out more than we realise. They’re constantly dodging established prides and coalitions, not yet big enough to fight for territory, not yet experienced enough to kill regularly, simply eking out an existence until one day, with a tremendous amount of luck, they make it to an age at which they can compete with a dominant coalition somewhere, mate with the local pride(s), and sire cubs. Then their official job as a reproductive organism is done.
After their mauling at the hands of the Ntsevu females, the two interlopers have disappeared. Maybe they’ll turn up again, but most likely they have decided to seek life elsewhere, at least for now.
Within the Greater Kruger National Park, a wilderness area of more than 6 million acres, they could be anywhere. We posted recently that coalitions of two don’t have the best chance of establishing themselves, so we won’t pin our hopes on this pair ruling the roost one day. But on an outside chance, maybe they will be shaggy-maned beasts in a few years, and the look in their eyes will be something completely different to the staring, nervous one that is so evident right now.