For the most part, when one thinks of male lions on Londolozi, the Birmingham coalition comes to mind. These are not the only male lions that hold territory on the reserve. The Birmingham Males control a large portion of south-eastern Londolozi and have been a formidable coalition of males that originally started out as six brothers. Through time and misfortune, they are now down to two and have been the mainstay coalition on the reserve since 2017.
Although they are now around 12 years of age and have, for the most part, passed their prime, they were recently triumphant over the Othawa Male, previously dominant over the western section of the reserve. It would seem that even though the threat of the Othawa Male from the west no longer exists, an imminent, more dangerous one from the north does.
Whilst drinking our early morning coffee on Varty deck we heard lions roaring, one of the most exciting things to hear first thing in the morning. The roaring came from not too far east of camp and became our sole focus for the morning. As we were climbing into the vehicle we heard the lions call again, reaffirming our plan as this didn’t sound like the Birminghams’ roars and was coming from too far north for it to be them. Having heard the roars many times over most of the trackers are able to identify the individuals by their calls, almost as how we are able to recognise different peoples’ voices, an art I admire immensely and have yet to master.
Knowing roughly where to start looking, the goal was to head straight into that area, in the hopes of either finding fresh tracks or hearing them roar again. The excitement was building, as Trevor pointed out from the tracks on the road where an altercation of some sort must have gone down the night before. Tracks of male lions had been running down the road to reach this point where the ground was scuffed and dust had been thrown everywhere. A point where at least two males had a go at each other.
While assessing the scene, we heard the lions call again this time they were so much closer. Driving around every corner in anticipation of them being right there and eventually choosing to drive into the block in the direction from which the calls were coming. As we turned off the road there in front of us walking through the clearing were the two Northern Avoca Males, on a mission. Trevor was right, it wasn’t the Birmingham Males who had been roaring. It was evident from the get-go that one of the males was injured. Not severely, but evidence of a recent brawl. It all made sense and we could piece together the puzzle. The most likely scenario was a run-in between the Northern Avocas and Birmingham Males. Reaffirming their dominance and in sending a message for any other males to stay clear, the Northern Avocas continued to roar and scent mark throughout the morning.
All of this action seemed to attract the attention of a lioness. It wasn’t clear to us whether she had been with them during the night or whether she had just joined whilst we were with them. Upon arrival, she was not greeted with the warmest welcome as testosterone surged through the males post the altercation from the evening prior. The healthier male laid his claim on the approaching female, not allowing his brother anywhere near her. In agreement with the other rangers, we decided it was most likely a female from the Ntsevu Pride, seeking out the dominant males in the north to mate with. Even though the Ntsevu lionesses are associated with the Birmingham males, this lioness may have made a conscious decision to be covered by males from another coalition in anticipation of the Birmingham’s demise in the foreseeable future.
Another possible theory is that it was in fact a lioness from the Mhangeni Pride, seeking out the presence of the Northern Avocas in order to mate with, now that the Othawa Male is no longer around to sire her cubs. It’s not only this lioness who is anticipating the fate of the Birmingham Males, but so too the Northern Avoca Males. That night they ventured far into the southern reaches of their territory and although nobody witnessed it, evidence of tracks and injuries on the lions show that the two coalitions clashed during the night, an epic battle between two rival coalitions, not the first and most likely not the last.
One thing is for sure, the Birmingham Males are not written off yet. They have clearly still got some fight in them after overcoming the Othawa Male. The male lion dynamics on the reserve are rapidly evolving as things slip into a power vacuum. It will be interesting to see whether the two Northern Avoca Males continue to push further south into the Birmingham Males’ territory in the coming months, after sensing that they are no longer the force that they used to be.