Text and photographs by: James Moodie
Over the past two or so years we have noticed many different dynamics in the lion populations and movements. These are more or less due to the different coalitions of males that move in and out of the territory. So having said that, I think it would be a good idea to write about the different coalitions that can be found on MalaMala and where they generally dominate. Since the mighty Manyeleti Male coalition of 4 left MalaMala for the comfort of the Western Sabi Sands, the reserve has been open game to any males wanting to establish themselves. Let’s start with the North.
A little over a year ago we noticed two very large male lions moving south over our boundary, coming more and more frequently to areas around Clarendon and the northern reaches of the Mlowathi River. They were named the Clarendon Males, named after the area of which they were first seen. They very rarely spent a good amount of time on the property and would move north overnight back into the Sabi Sands. Then they began to scent mark, roar frequently, and once they eventually found the resident pride in that area (the Styx Pride), they took them over, siring a litter of 3 cubs with them.
Their reign of power was very short lived however, as reports from northern Sabi Sands was that a powerful coalition of 5 large, young males were slowly moving south into the central parts of Sabi Sands. It was a matter of time before they finally made it to MalaMala, and when they did, they sent the Clarendon Males running. The 5 young males were named the Gowrie Males on account of the area of the Sabi Sands north of our boundary. They very quickly took control of the Styx Pride and killed the Clarendon Males cubs, and have been seen mating with the lionesses on several occasions.
We are quite concerned for the Styx lioness’s litter of cubs as they are presumably sired by the Clarendon Males, who on top of Stwise as they may be killed by the Gowrie Males – interesting times ahead for the Styx Pride. The Clarendon Males started feeling the pressure of this coalition, and hastily moved west of our boundary to an area that has a very low lion population and therefore safety, rarely coming onto MalaMala.
In the central parts of the reserve there is now a very stable and powerful coalition of two males called the Matshapiri Males, so named because the first time they were viewed was in the Matshapiri River. We have absolutely no information on these two male lions, as they arrived at the begining of the year from the neighboring Kruger National Park. When they arrived they had no habituation to vehicles, often charging land rovers and growling and roaring at them as they approached. However by using methods and techniques designed by MalaMala, these two males are now fully habituated and can be viewed with little or no attention paid to the vehicles. The two Matshapiri Males are constantly in the company of a single lioness, presumably from the same pride. She is alone most of the time due to the two males she is constantly attempting to get acceptance from. One of the prides that fall within the males territory is the Eyrefield Pride. The second youngest female of that pride has already had cubs sired by the Matshapiri Males, so she spends time away from the other two lionesses, and the Matshapiri Lioness is sometimes in their company as well, but only when the males are present though. The Matshapiri males came onto MalaMala and they have certainly let it known that they were here for a purpose, roaring constantly and scent marking wherever they could. They now dominate the central parts of the reserve, and have sired 4 cubs with the youngest lioness of the Fourways Pride, which is close to the Kruger boundary.
In the very southern parts of MalaMala, the only coalition known to us is a coalition known as the Charleston Males, so named because of the area in the south where they used to dominate. They too spend very little time on MalaMala and when seen, they are always around the southern parts of the Sand River, an area known as Toulon. As far as we are aware they have not yet sired any cubs, although they are very large males for their age. With the 2 Jakkalsdraai Males (formerly part of the Fourways Pride) having left MalaMala and moved west into the Sabi Sands, Charleston is an open field, and hopefully the two Charleston Males will set up a territory in the future in this area.
Of course there are always young males around 2 – 3 years old that are moving around the property (namely the males from the Eyrefield Pride and 3 new males from the north) but for them it’s merely a game of hide and seek as they are far too young and inexperienced to tackle any of the major established coalitions. There is also a new coalition of 5 young males that have been viewed on Toulon that have now started pushing north onto the southern parts of MalaMala. The lion dynamics are also constantly changing, and could even change by the time I finish this blog. Lets hope for more cubs and stronger prides in the future…