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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.