Almost a year to the day and I remember it like it was yesterday. Alumni ranger James Tyrrell and I set out early in the morning with no real intention of what we were going to look for but rather to just enjoy being out in the bush. Little did we realise what we were in for. As we approached a clearing relatively close to camp, we heard the not-too-distant roaring of lions. There are few sounds in the bush that ignite more excitement. A lion’s roar can be heard from as far as 8km away but we knew this was closer and what was even more thrilling was that it was more than one lion calling.
At this point in time, it turns out that the Birmingham Coalition had dwindled down to one. He had also not been roaring for a few months, in the hopes of avoiding any unwanted attention and so we knew that roars were what we had been waiting for for a few months. A new coalition was here to stake their claim on the prime territory along the Sand River at Londolozi.
In the days building up to this one, in particular, the Ndzhenga Males had moved on to Londolozi from the south. Two of them had pushed north first, being joined by a third the next day and the fourth trailing not too far behind. At first, they were silent. Moving in with stealth. Responding to the distant calls of one of the Northern Avoca Males in the Sand River. The atmosphere was tense as we knew a Lion takeover was imminent.
When a coalition of male lions moves into unchartered territory to claim it for their own, they announce their presence. Within no more than half an hour after hearing the roars, we had managed to find a coalition of four male lions trotting up the road roaring and scent-marking; a scene I will never forget.
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Who are they?
The four males are known as the Ndhzenga Coalition, also known as the N’waswitshaka Males, which is the name of the pride from which three of them came. We had heard reports from our neighbours to our south that this coalition had been seen on their reserve for the previous 18 months but we knew little about them. They had clearly sensed through the lack of roaring from the Birmingham Males that there was a new territory to be taken over and this is precisely what they did. For the past 12 months, this coalition has made the prime real estate along the Sand River their own.
Ndhzenga means thorn in the side which was the name given to the coalition due to one male that has an injury from a buffalo horn on the side of his stomach.
Where did they come from?
Three of the four males were born in 2015 and come from the N’waswitshaka Pride in the Kruger National Park (KNP). Male lions normally leave their natal pride anywhere between the age of three to four years old. After these males left, they started the nomadic period of their lives where they were not yet big enough to hold their own territory. During this period they were seen in and around the Skukuza region and sometimes venturing into the southern parts of the Sabi Sand Nature Reserve.
The name N’waswitshaka is from a river that flows from Pretoriuskop Restcamp and joins the Sabie River close to Skukuza Restcamp.
It is not completely unheard of for young males to join up with other young males from another pride at roughly the same age. After all, when it comes to being a force to be reckoned with in a high lion-density area numbers will certainly play to your advantage. This is what happened when they met up with the fourth member of their coalition who is from the S79 pride in the KNP. As they grew in size and gained experience they ventured further and further north into the Sabi Sand Nature Reserve.
The four males are quite easy to tell apart due mostly to the fact that life as a male lion doesn’t always come easy. During their nomadic years they will try their best to not encounter any older dominant males but if they do fights will often ensue. This typically leads to scars or injuries that can be helpful in identifying the differences between each individual.
One male has an injury to his stomach which may have been from the horn of a buffalo which has left him with a noticeable hernia sticking out his side. The male from the S79 pride has an old injury that has left him with a front left foot that has fused at an angle of at least 45 degrees outward making even his tracks very easily identifiable. Of the two males not sporting any prominent injuries one is significantly bigger than the other.
What determines a prime territory for male lions?
As of 2020, the Ndhzenga Coalition was seen trailing herds of buffalo into an area where the Styx pride had been spending most of their time south of our boundary. It would be a few more years before, with numbers on their side, they could stake a claim to be the dominant males over this pride. Lions will look for territory based on the availability of prey species and prides of female lions in the area. Essentially all animals want to survive and procreate. The Styx pride provided them with extra numbers to hunt bigger prey and they were regularly seen feeding on a buffalo carcass. They later were able to sire a few different litters of cubs with the Styx pride which we from time to time see around our southern boundary. But since then they have abandoned this pride and their old territory and moved much further north even being seen close to the Londolozi camps.
What’s next for this coalition?
Their new territory encompasses the territory of the Ntsevu Pride. The Ntsevu Pride which is now made up of 4 older lionesses (born in 2013) and 5 younger lionesses (born in 2018). The Ndhzenga Males have been seen mating with several of these females during the course of the last 12 months but unfortunately, none of their litters of cubs has been able to make it past a few months old. However, we have seen a few lionesses lately showing signs that we may have some new additions to the Ntsevu Pride in the not-too-distant future. An exciting prospect indeed after a fairly tumultuous period in the lion dynamics in recent times.
Having four males in their coalition has led to them having a very sizeable territory which means that they are regularly seen apart patrolling different areas. Whenever we set out early in the morning and we hear the males calling in the distance to each other it always reminds me of the day I witnessed the now dominant males of Londolozi staking claim to their new land. How long they will be able to hold onto their prime territory remains to be seen. I hope it is long enough for us to see a new generation of cubs raised to independence over the next few years.