In last week’s TWIP I alluded to how the lions on and around Londolozi had “gone to ground”, so to speak. We just could not find any! Now, I do probably exaggerate slightly; a couple of us managed to locate a lion(s) at some point, but it was tough out there and pickings were seriously slim for a couple of days.
But in the space of 72 hours things changed. In a big way.
It all started with ranger Chris Taylor radioing in that he had found and was following the Othawa male highly mobile up the central road of Londolozi. Followed shortly by another report detailing the cause of such high mobility; he was chasing another lion (the Othawa male was, not Chris)!
No, wait, he was chasing two lions! Somehow, the Othawa male had gotten hold of their scent and investigated as to the origin of this foreign menace, or perhaps just unluckily for them, bumped into them while he was on a territorial patrol. That altercation ended without any violence, the two managing to elude the teeth & claws of the older territorial male (who himself was deep into the Birmingham males territory already – something to keep an eye on as the Birminghams are about twice this male’s age and unlikely to be able to hold territory for much longer).
The next morning the team, having heard news that the seemingly mythical lions were around, set out searching with renewed vigour. I decided to follow up on where the Othawa male was last seen, with Joy Mathebula tracking on the front. Hearing a roar, we moved quickly into the area and soon found the tracks of a male…
But the waters were muddied by the passing of a massive herd of buffalo, it was a tough track to keep on top of.
Then, as we moved through the swathe of churned mud there came that most exciting moment – Joy’s arm shoots out, pointing dead West of us to a teak shrub in which lay two young males lions. And right next to them, two more!
Here were the Styx and Nkuhuma young males, two independent youngsters who have been slinking around the reserve doing what 3.5 year old male lions are supposed to do; stay low and out of sight and in no way advertise yourself, as well as two other lions! Regarding the other two, I’ll be the first to put my hand up and say that I have no idea who they are – possible options include the Sand River young males, the Othawa young males or the Plains Camp Pride young males. The important point is that there were four young male lions in front of us, a sight not seen on Londolozi in quite some time.
The interaction that followed was fascinating – the younger pair seemed to not know what to do with themselves, constantly lying down and getting back up again, constantly touching and rubbing each other for reassurance, constantly circling the two older males and in the end mounting one another; first one would mount and then drop off to immediately lie flat for the other male to do the same! I put this last behaviour down to the confusion and excitement of this intense situation as well as the raging hormones of these two newly sexually mature males.
The other pair were having none of it and lay flat, eyes hooded, snarling and growling at any breach of their personal space. But the tension continued to build until the point where the older pair finally snapped and balked at the youngsters, growling viciously, lips pulled back to expose their wickedly sharp canines. The other two held ground as best they could, hissing and spitting back at the older males. And then suddenly all four were roaring! Their deep bass rumbles echoing off the vehicles, rattling our teeth and reverberating in our chests; there is something so primal in that sound, it humbles the fortunate onlooker like nothing else out here can.
But with that last fierce interaction, the two pairs decided to separate, it being far too late in the game for them to learn to tolerate each other and form a coalition. And more’s the pity; a powerful team of four lions, as we well know, could dominate a significant portion of the Sabi Sand Reserve.
Now all this roaring seemed to have gotten the Birmingham males riled up as later that morning, reports came in of “lion audio South and East” – that radio transmission signalling anybody in the area to turn off and listen, allowing us to triangulate the source more accurately. No luck that morning; they still seemed to be roaring on the eastern side of the Sand River, but that afternoon a single Birmingham male was found marching back through Londolozi, roaring in full force and aggressively scent-marking his territory. His brother joined him within the next couple of days, the two making quite a show of advertising their presence. This duo is old, scarred and battle-weary, but they are still a force to be reckoned with; their tenure as the dominant males over this area may be drawing to a close but my prediction is that they won’t go out easily when the time comes and good luck to whichever male(s) decide to challenge them!
And while all of this was going on, north of the Sand River lions also appeared en masse!
The Nkuhuma Pride and a single accompanying Avoca male were found in the dry Manyelethi River – there are few more picturesque locations to view a relaxed pride basking on the warm sand of the wide-open river bed, several over-excited cubs charging up and down the bank and stalking each other through the thickets. And last but definitely not least, the Tsalala Pride was found! The single adult female, with her cub almost matching shoulder height now, are the ultimate underdog pride and although we try to remain impassive observers in these situations, it is always a relief to know they are alive and still going strong.
And that ladies and gentlemen, is about as summarised as I can make a pretty wild week of lion viewing here at Londolozi! Every single day I count myself fortunate enough to live in this wilderness and to be able witness the ebbs and flows of the natural world, and this blog is just one of a myriad number of fascinating experiences that make up daily life out here.