This pride has had an illustrious and long career on MalaMala starting way back in the early nineties. In the early parts of the 21st century the pride numbered 19, with 6 young males who would go on to gain huge notoriety with their aggression and total dominance over the western parts of the Sabi Sands.
But like all mighty prides the dynamics shift and the same happened with the Eyrefield pride. The dominant males at this time were known as the West Street males. They were aging and by the end of 2005 were no more. After some lean years to our west the pride was taken over by the Rollercoaster males, and in 2007 they produced 10 cubs in the sand river around Maxims lookout. One of the cubs died as a youngster but the remaining 9 made it to 9 months before trouble came knocking. The rollercoaster males started to lose dominance over the pride in 2009, and was no more in January 2010. The all conquering Eyrefield males, mentioned above, had started to move back to MalaMala as dominant males, and the two youngest males decided to settle and take the territory. They became known as the Mlowathi males. They hunted down the Eyrefield pride and in 2009 managed to kill two of the sub-adults. In the winter of 2009 we found a young male hanging around the pride, he would shadow the pride but never get closer than 100 yards. Over many months the young male, who was from the Marthly pride and had been kicked out, became more and more familiar with the pride and the aging Rollercoaster male. Inching closer and closer, one day we found him lying amongst the pride. This is very unusual for a pride to adopt a non-related lion, especially since it was a young male, some theories have it that perhaps the Rollercoaster male was looking for a sidekick to try and bolster his dominance over the territory. But whatever reason the pride adopted him in as a non-dominant male who became one of the pride members. He would hunt, feed, groom and bond with all the members and became an Eyrefield lion. In 2010 with the death of the rollercoaster male, the pride was at the mercy of the two Mlowathi males, two of the lionesses separated themselves and began to accept and mate with the Mlowathi males, keeping the rest of the pride safe by occupying their time. The courtship produced three cubs, the twist was that the males were originally from the pride and so they had sired three cubs with their own sisters. Inbreeding is not unheard of and first generation inbreeding usually will not produce any ill side effects, but the Mlowathi males were not finished with the pride. In 2010 they killed another female sub adult before running into the young Manyelethi males and losing their territories and prides in a bloody battle.
By January 2011 the pride was split with one adult living with the remaining six sub adults and the adopted male, and the two separated females looking after their three young cubs. Tragically one of the sub adult males was then killed by a buffalo in a failed hunt and then after all that they then had to deal with the newly empowered Manyelethi males.
The Manyelethi males first found the separated lionesses and killed two of the cubs later killing the remaining cub. Then they went in search of the bulk of the pride. In a bloody fight they broke the back of the single lioness who was looking after the sub adults and she died from her injuries the following day. The remaining six sub adults took off running and during autumn of 2011 we would find them scattered throughout MalaMala. The two separated lionesses then started associating with the four Manyelethi males and by mid 2011 they were often seen together. Then in June 2011 we found one of the sub adult females with three of the Manyelethi males. The males intruded on a buffalo kill killed by 3 of the sub adult females, but instead of running away the females began to flirt with the males. Soon after we found them all mating and freely associating with the males and by July 2011 the two adults and the three sub adults had joined forces again. In the meanwhile the two Eyrefield males and the adopted Marthly male had been pushed out of the pride for good. During the take over the Manyelethi males caught one of the young Eyrefield males and nearly killed him, somehow he managed to escape but was left with half a tail and severe wounds across his back and hind quarters. The young males headed south and spent time together before the injured male finally passed away after battling his wounds for almost 5 months.
2012 was a busy year for the Eyrefield pride. All females except the oldest lioness produced cubs in the early parts of the year. Sadly three cubs from one of the younger females were killed in the floods in late January but the young lioness was seen again mating with the Manyelethi males soon after the incident. The younger of the two oldest lionesses also met her fate when she attempted to climb a tree to steal a kill from a leopard and impaled herself on a tree stump when she fell from a serious height, leaving two cubs orphaned. The youngest lioness then adopted these cubs as her own but they were only able to survive a couple months before perishing in June 2012. Between November 2011 and August 2012 the Eyrefield lionesses produced twelve cubs, with only seven (6 males and 1 female) making it to the end of 2012. Testament to the unforgiving conditions of the region. During the beginning of 2013 the oldest lioness was the only lioness without cubs and appeared to be pregnant. Unfortunately she started to lose condition at a rapid pace and eventually died in April of that year leaving the three young lionesses to now lead the pride. They reacted emphatically and the pride grew in strength dramatically. In an eight-day period we witnessed them kill 2 buffalo and 3 wildebeest along the Sand river during June 2013. Unfortunately we received news in July that one of the young males had been killed in unknown circumstances, leaving the pride now with nine members. They moved on and towards the end of 2013 they were back to their usual ways of killing, providing many meals for the frequent visits by the Manyelethi males.
Things are looking up for the Eyrefield pride in the following year. With the unwavering protection from the Manyelethi males and an obvious understanding between the lionesses in hunting scenarios, this pride should continue to dominate within the central parts of Mala Mala. As the cubs grow towards adulthood they will also be able to provide the pride with added strength. As five of the six cubs are males the pride doesn’t have a great opportunity to grow in the foreseeable future as they will most probably leave the comfort of their mothers to fight for land of their own. We will wait and observe if these males evolve into a very powerful coalition reminiscent of the brutal Mlowathi males, who were also spawned by Eyrefield blood and went on to dominate a large proportion of the Sabi Sands prior to the introduction of the current Manyelethi male coalition.
Only time will tell, we wait patiently and continue to watch in awe as this pride patrols our land.
Andrew Bachelor and Nic Moxham