Baby Steps for the Styx Pride, by ranger Nic Moxham

A mother's affection

It seems that this summer has really proven to be a season of new life, which brings an extraordinary excitement to rangers and guests alike. Watching young predators in their first phases of development is both entertaining and intriguing, and we have been blessed with plenty of action as the Styx Lion Pride and Kikilezi Female leopard have both shared their cubs with us. But with this new life comes unavoidable threats.

The situation with the Styx lion pride is by far the most fascinating. The oldest lioness in the pride has given birth to two females and a male cub, which look to be close to four months old now. The younger lioness in the pride has had a more recent litter, but her cubs have been kept in an inaccessible area and have not as yet been seen.

Grooming time

Mother and cub

Oldest lioness and cub

As rangers, we are trying to avoid getting attached to these youngsters, as their future looks uncertain. Having being sired by a nomadic male lion from the north (which they call the Nkuhuma Male), the cubs are under severe threat from the dominant Manyelethi Males to their south. It is in the blood of these brothers to eradicate any non-related progeny and to only preserve those from their bloodline. If these male lions had to run into the cubs and the lionesses, there would almost certainly be blood spilt.


Styx cubs

The one thing going for these Styx lions is that the Manyelethi Males haven’t been seen with Styx Pride for over 14 months now, and so it is no surprise that the lionesses sought out another male to mate with. This being said, the Manyelethi Males do still venture into Styx Pride territory fairly regularly. Time will tell, and we wait in anxious anticipation.

Styx cubs

As is the natural order, the cubs do have other threats in the form of leopards, hyenas and other lions. We do however feel that as long as the pride can avoid the Manyelethi Males, their cubs will have a future – even if it means finding a new territory to raise their young under the safety of the nomadic male.

Styx cubs playing

The Manyelethi Males are also facing serious competition, and could possibly be ousted by the end of the year, presenting new issues for the Styx Pride. New coalitions would actively seek out prides in their territory and exterminate any young cubs sired from a previous coalition to force the females into estrus, thus commencing their own reign as quickly as possible.

The cubs also face a threat from the prevailing coalition of six large males in the north, which spends time within the Styx Pride territory, as well as the roving Fourways Pride and their three maturing males. They are wedged between a number of very brutal forces, with a single nomadic male as their only protector. Could it work out in their favour? After all, the Kruger Male did it with the Selati Pride in the south. He single-handedly dominated the large pride despite the neighbouring males being eager to take over his bounty. We shall see if the ‘Nkuhuma’ Male has what it takes to replicate this feat.

Styx cub

Styx Pride and cubs

Onto the issue of the sub-adults, which is equally interesting. The two young males and two young females turned three years old last month, and are entering a critical phase of their life. It is inevitable that the young males will leave the pride, as the presence of much larger males in the area will make it almost impossible for them to remain with the older lionesses and new cubs. Whether the females will remain with the pride is another story. It would certainly benefit the pride to retain the young females as a support to the older lionesses for protection and hunting. The temptation to leave with the males would undoubtedly be appealing, as the older lionesses focus a lot of their attention on the new litters. Furthermore, they have grown up with their two brothers, and there is little doubt that the bond between the siblings is currently stronger than that with their mothers. This could lead towards an instinctive decision to leave with the males, and to attempt to begin a new pride somewhere away from MalaMala.

Styx lioness and sub-adult female - will the young lionesses stay with their mother?

Styx sub-adult male after feeding off buffalo kill

Of course, this is all speculation. No one really knows how lions, or any animal for that matter, truly feel. Nor can we state with certainty the rationale (if any) behind their decisions. But speculate we do as we live with them day in and day out. Personalising them, and trying to find reason for their behavior makes us feel closer to them, and a part of the natural system of things.

What are your thoughts? I’d love to hear them.

Nic Moxham

8 thoughts on “Baby Steps for the Styx Pride, by ranger Nic Moxham

  1. Hello from Spain Nic.
    Congratulations by the amazing history on this new blog and by make our lifes in the other part of the world a bit more interesting with your reports and blogs.
    As a mere spectator you said in the blog that the reign of the Manyelethis may come to the end this year by the competition with other males but all looks as they still have at least a couple of years as a dominant force,the last week they made an incursion in the west and give the selatis a good beating,by the south the kruger male do not venture in his territory, the matimbas from the north do not come further of the styx´s territory….is there something that we don´t know?
    Thanks and once more congratulations by your time and work

  2. Unfortunately, hasn’t the Nkuhuma male been missing for several weeks and believed to be dead?

  3. Hi all. You are correct, the Nkuhuma Male hasn’t been seen for a while and could have completely abandoned the Styx Pride. With all the neighbouring coalitions hot on his heels, it would make it very tough for him to protect his progeny. Who knows wether he will return or not.

    The Manyelethi Males have been in power now for over two and a half years and are approaching the ten year mark. I believe that there is too much pressure from surrounding, younger coalitions for them to last another year.

    The Selati Males have been taking a small beating from the Manyelethi Males but they might continue to push their boundaries further east.

    The 3 Sand River Males as well as the 4 Hildas Rock Males could also be a threat, and lately the Matimba Males have been seen in our property and could pose a threat to the Manyelethi Males if they decide to push further south.

    Also you have to take into consideration other coalitions that we don’t know of, males from the KNP or further north. Who knows? We may be completely wrong and the Manyelethi Males might continue to reign for another 3 years! This is just our opinion, and a reasonably inexperienced one at that. Guess we will just have to wait and see what unfolds.

    Nic Moxham, MalaMala Ranger

  4. Thank you for this article. I just pray there is some Lion Brotherhood, where lions don’t fight each other, and don’t kill the cubs. It is very painful to see lions fighting each other. I just pray the lion population will recover and flourish.

  5. Hello Nic,

    I have another question regarding the Manyelethi Males. You mentioned they are in power for two and a half years. As far as I know they took over from the Mapogo Males during June 2010 killing Kinky Tail along the way. That would mean they are reigning almost 4 years, which is guite a long time of domination.
    So I’d like to know, if my datas are correct.

    Thanks in advance for your response.


  6. Hello Nic,

    Didn’t the Manyelethi Males starting their reign June 2010 killing Kinky Tail along the way? That would mean their domination lasts almost 4 years.


  7. Hi Dan,

    Yes your information is correct although they were only truly accepted by the prides in the area during early 2011.

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