The Birmingham coalition is officially down to two. The injured male succumbed to his ailing health and died in the Sand River during the middle of last week.
He had been in poor condition for quite some time, so some people might view this as almost a relief as he no longer has to limp around, struggling. From an original coalition of five, only a pair of males are left to attempt to maintain their hold on their territory.
There are two schools of thought as to the impact this loss will have on the tenure of the surviving two.
Physically, the male was in no condition to contribute towards any kind of physical conflict. Any wandering coalition coming across him would have been unlikely to have much trouble overcoming him, so quite possibly his death won’t affect anything.
However, the defence of a territory is not only about actual fighting. It starts long before that, primarily with vocalisations, then with scent marking, and the physical side is really only the last line of defence that marauding males have to contend with.
Male lions demarcate territories largely through roaring. The injured Birmingham male was still calling right up until his death, and that in itself would have made a huge contribution towards keeping other males at a distance. I don’t know which other coalitions are out there in the Kruger Park – maybe there’s one of six, already moving in – but what I am fairly confident of is that hearing the roars of 3 territorial males is a slightly more intimidating thing than just hearing the roars of two.
We wrote recently about how larger coalitions invariably have a much higher chance of success in surviving, claiming territory and then defending it, and over the last decade at Londolozi, coalitions of two have struggled to stake their claim.
There are two sides to the territory coin though, and it’s not just about the defending coalition, but also the one looking to overthrow them. If a coalition of six heave into view tomorrow, no matter which males are controlling Londolozi will likely have a tough time fighting them off. If no new males arrive, all well and good, and the Birmingham males can sleep easy. It usually comes down to a numbers game.
Londolozi is fairly central within the Sabi Sand reserve, and neighbouring reserves will most likely be the first to view or hear intruding males. We have heard reports of a new group of three Avoca males in the north of the reserve, but so far they have not looked like pushing south into Birmingham territory.
With the roars of only two Birmingham males left to sound in the night, other males may take note, and we may well start seeing some changes in the next few months…