A couple of days ago we wrote about the Ntsevu pride starting to splinter as the lionesses start giving birth to new litters, and the Othawa male was thrown into the mix, much further east than we’ve seen him before.
Last night he had moved even further downstream in the Sand River, and his calls as the sun started to set initiated a bellowing match between him and one of the Birmingham males in east-central Londolozi, about four kilometres away (see map).
Often when big territorial males hear an intruder, they are immediately up and running in his direction, intent on committing grievous bodily harm to the interloper.
Not this time though. The Birmingham male simply lay there, often roaring from a fully reclined position. He seemed quite content to erect that vocal boundary rather than initiating a physical confrontation. The theory was that being alone, he was reluctant to engage in a fight. If his coalition-mate had been there, it may well have been a different story.
Although we could not hear the second Birmingham male calling from where we were (with the first Birmingham), we figured it likely that at some point during the night the pair might meet up to at least roar in a united front, in an attempt to drive the Othawa male away. The lioness the Othawa male was with was, after all, an Ntsevu female, and the Birmingham coalition should certainly feel their proprietary rights were being infringed upon.
Lo and behold, this morning at around 05:10, before the sun had risen, we found the Birmingham males with the bulk of the Ntsevu pride, only a few hundred metres from where the Othawa male had been roaring. The second Birmingham male had come from the deep south to join his brother, and together they had moved north.
I’ll be perfectly honest here and say that I don’t – nor can I – know the exact motives of these two males for being where we found them. Truth be told, it’s more often the pride that dictates the direction and pace, and the male(s) simply tag along behind. It does seem highly coincidental though that the morning after an intruding male was roaring from their territory, the dominant pair showed up at almost the same spot and their rival was nowhere to be seen.
This theory pretty much falls apart if the Othawa male was still close by (we didn’t find him). Or it can hold, but it means the approach of the Birmingham males didn’t have the desired effect and the intruder wasn’t to be deterred.
I don’t know how much info is conveyed in a lion’s roar; whether or not males can ascertain the threat level of a foreign male just from his voice. They can certainly tell the difference between roars (people can do it too, but it’s tricky and you need to have heard individuals roar a good many times before you start recognising their specific call) and know when a roar is not made by a lion they know, but beyond that, I’m not sure.
I think tonight will be when we find out more. If we hear the Othawa male roaring from close by, the intimidation tactics of the Birmingham males have failed and they’ll have to come up with another plan.
If the Ntsevu female is still with the Othawa male and he’s still close by, this may be the tiniest shift in the male lion power struggle that we’re witnessing…