The Ntsevu Pride is simply getting too big.
That sounds a bit ludicrous from our perspective, as there are very few things as awe-inspiring as having a pride of 20 lions stream past you, especially as they’ll usually have the Birmingham males in tow.
Yet if we look at the internal workings of the group, there are a couple of things that aren’t quite working out.
Firstly, the youngest litter…
Unfortunately for them, the considerable time gap between their births and the much older group of cubs/sub-adults means that the three young cubs really struggle to feed off kills with the rest of the pride. Being much smaller, they cannot outcompete their older cousins, and a recent sighting of the pride on an impala kill saw one of them literally swatted into the air by one of the Birmingham males. Apart form the immediate danger of accidentally being killed by an errant paw from a much larger lion, what we’ve seen over the past couple of months is the small ones being relegated to the scraps from kills, and therefore struggling to maintain their condition. Despite the adult lionesses killing regularly, the impalas that the pride have been favouring simply don’t suffice to feed all of them. Two nights ago two of the young cubs were missing from the pride. Ranger Pete Thorpe and I heard definite contact calls from lions close to where they had been the previous night, but the bulk of the pride was lying up well over a kilometre away with the two cubs unaccounted for. Almost certainly the contact calls we heard were from the missing cubs, who had most likely stayed behind to try and pick up whatever leftovers they could after a kill.
They’re hanging in there, but they’re walking a very fine line.
The older cubs/sub-adults meanwhile, are leading a charmed life. Their mothers provide all their food, and they barely have to do more than stroll along behind, to be within striking distance of a kill when it is made.
Thus state of affairs can’t continue for too long though. Whilst the idea of a super pride is a nice one, in which 20 hunting lions are roaming the reserve as a fearsome group of terror, it is unlikely to end up that way.
The Ntsevu adults themselves were pushed out of the Mhangeni pride when their mothers started to mate again (the same thing happened to the next batch of Mhangeni cubs, with far less success though), and given the history of the last few years, it seems highly likely that the same thing will happen here. I think at last count 5 of the older cubs were male, so they will leave almost by default, attempting to establish their own coalition. Maybe the young females will stay, but personally I doubt it.
If the Ntsevu lioness were efficient giraffe hunters, or there were enough buffalo to go around or they preferred zebras to impala on a more consistent basis, maybe things would be different, but I just don’t see this same hunt-two-impalas-a-night situation developing into anything productive for a large pride that is going to need more and more food as its youngest members continue to grow.
As turbulent as 2020 is turning out for the rest of the world, it may also end up being a bit of a shock to the younger Ntsevu lions, as many of them may find themselves out on their own by its end…