The Tsalala Pride is one that many at Londolozi hold very close to their hearts and its legacy now spans around 24 years. With the pride having been reduced down to only two last year our hearts were then broken when we heard of the news on the 20th of November 2021 that the older Tsalala Lioness (born in 2014) had been killed. The remaining young female, at an age of two years and eight months, was then left alone to fend for herself. Defying the odds. She has exceeded all expectations and rather than just merely surviving, she has been thriving. Although our sightings have been sporadic since she was forced into early independence, she spent much of her time in the Sand River and in the northern parts of our reserve, known as Marthly.
She had gained valuable hunting and survival skills from her mother much earlier than the normal trajectory of a young lion. Resulting in her successfully hunting on her own and not only going after the small easy to overpower prey but still catching bigger antelope such as Kudu and male Nyala (just like her mother).
Over the last little while, we have seen a few small changes in her behaviour that give us a lot of hope for the future of the Tsalala Pride. Firstly, we have begun to hear her roar, more so than just a soft contact call. She is now nearly reaching the age of sexual maturity and is essentially seeking out the presence of the dominant males in the area. It might be a little early for her to mate but we should see that fairly soon. I guess we could think that for a lone lioness to be calling it could put her in a huge amount of danger with all the other prides of lions running around. This is true but in the same breath, it is a hugely positive move by her as there was a chance that she could meet up with another lioness and essentially build the pride numbers. Making hunting easier and of course the added benefit of support and safety in numbers.
Many of us had our doubts about whether she would ever be able to integrate into another pride being a lone lioness. The chances were slim as any of the other prides had a number of females and they would see the Tsalala Lioness as a threat to their offspring and drive her away. As well as there are many other lionesses for her to convince that she is welcome. Little did we know what was going to happen.
In late July/early August, we had heard rumours that the Tsalala Lioness had met up with a Mhangeni Lioness. Now, this is where it gets interesting. This Mhangeni Lioness was born into the Tsalala Pride in 2009 by one of the Tsalala Sisters and fathered by the Mapogo Males. When the Majingilane Males arrived, their aunt, the Tailless female ran north with the four sisters to keep them safe. Upon returning a year later, they were not accepted back into the Tsalala Pride and the four sisters formed their own pride, which became known as the Mhangeni Pride. This Mhangeni Lioness formed the core of the pride even though ageing slightly.
The rumours turned into fact when we were able to finally lay eyes on these two lionesses together. For a few days, Marthly was littered with tracks of two lionesses that all seemed to end up in the river. Unfortunately for us, most of these occasions were in areas that were inaccessible with a vehicle and we could not find the lions. Until finally one morning both these lionesses were found one was certainly the Tsalala female and the other a much older lioness, the Mhangeni Female.
Now one must mention, that although these two lionesses are in fact related and both originate from within the same pride, they have never actually come across one another that we know of and essentially did not know each other. So how did this all come about?
With the passing of the Othawa Male in the west, the Mhageni Pride had a tough time trying to keep the last of his lineage alive. The up-and-coming Plains Camp Males moved in to occupy the vacant territory and in doing so laid claim to the Mhageni Pride, killing off any offspring that was not sired by them. In losing her cubs this Mhangeni Lioness left the pride in order to seek out the Plains Camp Males and mate with them. Over the four to five days that she was away mating with the males, the Mhangeni Pride moved further afield and she was unable to find her pride. Their home range has become rather extensive and extends beyond our southern borders and far into the west.
Roaming around alone in search of her pride she would often call out hoping they would hear her. The Mhangeni Pride didn’t hear her, but the Tsalala Lioness did!
With the two Lionesses roaming around alone and both calling it was only a matter of time before they met up. I am sure the initial meeting between the two would have been tense but once they had acquainted themselves with each other and realised that being social animals they just wanted company. This pairing has undoubtedly been an exciting one as one can’t help but reflect on the relatedness of these females although they had never directly met, in ‘genealogical terms’ the Mhangeni Female would be classified as the Tsalala Female’s great aunt.
Needless to say, as weeks pass and these two females remain together – we can’t help but place the possibility of having the Tsalala Pride back to two once more. There are great prospects for this pride now that they each have a companion and the idea that the Mhangeni Female may in fact be pregnant after mating with the Plains Camp Males. It is only a matter of time too before the Tsalala Female is mating with the dominant males in the area, whether it be the Plains Camp Males who appear to be here to stay and are applying a lot of pressure to the neighbouring lions, or the Birmingham Male if he hangs around, or possibly the Ndzhenga Males if they come across each other.
The journey of the Tsalala Pride is sometimes hard to comprehend as the stories that unfold seem to repeat history at times. But this next chapter is certainly an exciting and hopeful time for the future of this pride. With the Mhangeni Pride settled far into the southern parts of the reserve it seems that this Mhangeni Female may stay with the Tsalala Female and perhaps if she is pregnant raise her cubs together. One thing is for sure we will have to wait and see what happens…