The Tsalala female is a lioness that continues to defy the odds. We follow her story as closely as nature allows, and like a lot of people who have read about her or seen her we continue to try and track her progress in the raising of her sole cub who is now about 15 months old. We watched the terrifying scenes of her being attacked by the Ntsevu Pride on the banks of the Sand River and held our collective breaths as we waited the few days to see if her cub had survived the fight. The fact that that they both did and did so without sustaining any noticeable long term injuries was nothing short of remarkable.
We do not see them as often as we would like to due to the nature of the territory in which they spend most of their time which is along the banks of the Sand River. The thick riverine vegetation, meandering water channels and numerous granite boulders that make up this stunningly beautiful landscape are not too Land Rover friendly and simply put there are just some parts of it that we just cannot get to. It’s a great territory for a lion though because there is lots of prey for them to hunt along the river and with an almost constant supply of water all year round it’s really just other lions and hyenas that the Tsalala female has to worry about.
We came across the two of them a few days ago as they rested on one of the high riverbanks and it was actually the first sighting that I had had of the pair together in quite some time. They were both looking well fed and healthy and any superficial wounds that the mother had picked up from the Ntsevu Pride a few weeks back had healed very well. It was quite the vantage point that they had over the river that afternoon and watching them just lie there got me thinking about what the future may hold for this small pride of two.
The fact that the cub had been fathered by the Birmingham males I think had worked in the mother’s favour during the fight she had had with the Ntsevu Pride. One of the males had been right there during the heat of the moment and had, at times, directed his aggression to some of the Ntsevu lionesses, slightly reducing their aggression. The increased presence of the Northern Avoca males could potentially be her next threat as they could be looking to challenge the Birmingham Males in the months ahead for some more territory and their females. With her cub currently at the age that she is, it means that she is not old enough to mate yet and this could mean that incoming males, whoever they may be, might want to get rid of her in order to bring the mother back into oestrus. The Othawa male also could pose the same danger to her and the cub as we have seen him once or twice in that same area.
The best case scenario for us would be if she continues to protect her daughter for about another year from male lions because then the daughter could start mating and if the two of them stayed together, which is quite likely, they could have cubs at the same time. The Tsalala Pride has been a well known pride of lions on Londolozi for decades now but for the last few years they have been hanging on by the skin of their teeth with this last remaining female and her cub the only chance the pride has of regrowing.
To be able to watch the lion dynamics change on the reserve over the years is an incredible privilege and many a long night has been spent around the campfire discussing and speculating what it all means. The story of the Tsalala female is literally the closest to home for us because there have been many sightings of the two of them wandering the riverbed in front of the various lodge decks. We are all rooting for her and hope in the years to come to see a much bigger Tsalala Pride patrolling the Sand River and beyond.