For almost two years now, the Northern section of Londolozi has not been occupied by a dominant pride of lions. This area – known as Marthly – was previously home to the much adored Tsalala pride. During 2017 and early 2018 the once pride suffered a run of bad luck and a combination of old age of some members and attacks from other lions whittled the pride down to one female. Under these circumstances, it is amazing the Tsalala lioness has managed to thrive on her own for so long considering how reliant lions are on their pride for survival. The resilient-as-ever Tsalala female has even managed to raise her cub to almost a year old despite the trying times. In order to keep her cub safe, she has had to sacrifice her former pride’s sprawling territory and concentrate her hunting efforts almost exclusively in the area surrounding the Sand River where prey is plentiful and there are good hiding spots for the cub.
The result of the Tsalala female’s territorial downsizing is that the Marthly is consequently available for any lion pride that is willing to claim it. Marthly is the ideal place for lions – it has the Manyelethi River that provides water points almost all year round, it has numerous beautiful rocky outcrops where young cubs can be safely left whilst the females are out hunting and its patchwork of open grassy crests and thick riverine vegetation supports many of the lions’ preferred prey species. Until recently, this prime territory remained unoccupied and instead it served a safe haven for a few different younger lions that had left their respective prides as well as a stopover for the nomadic Styx pride as they meandered their way through the greater Sabi Sands area. It began to feel as though Marthly was just too good to be true and that we might not get to see this unique place get the lion pride it seemed to deserve…
That is until late one steamy January morning. Tracker Bennet Mathonsi and I had been out that morning exploring the north with our guests and were just about to stop for a coffee break when our plans got derailed by fresh tracks of a large pride of lions close to the spot we had selected for our break.
Bennet leaped off the tracker’s seat and immediately began following. I always find tracking lions exciting but this time I was more excited than usual; who were these mystery lions whose tracks appeared on Londolozi overnight? We didn’t have to wait very long to find out. Bennet called me on the radio and said he had found the lions so we drove into the long grass and were delighted with the sight that awaited us. Up ahead were sixteen lions; nine young cubs, six females and one male – a full complement of the Nkuhuma pride and one of the two Northern Avoca males for good measure. We watched them as they walked through the grass towards a pristine pool of water in the Manyelethi River where they paused to drink before moving up the far bank to seek shade amongst the boulders.
Since that morning, we have seen the Nkuhuma pride on Marthly almost every other day. This pride – that originates from further north of Londolozi – have spent most of their time in the northern Sabi Sand Reserve but it seems as though the allure of an unoccupied Marthly has finally drawn them further south. The Nkuhuma pride currently consists of six females of varying ages and nine cubs, the oldest of which were born in the middle of last year and the youngest only born in December 2019. The fathers of the Nkuhuma pride’s latest cubs are the Northern Avoca males who are the dominant male lions in the Northern Sabi Sands and are regularly seen with the pride.
With sightings of this pride becoming more and more frequent, it is my hope that the Nkuhuma pride will become one of the mainstay prides of Londolozi.