Traversing and marking their territory, male lions don't spend a lot of their time with their pride. With males out on patrol females hunt for themselves and they are good at it, even a bit better than the males. If the females are successful in their hunt and are then joined by the males, the females will have to step aside for the males to feed first. Last but not least, if the males are not the fathers of existing cubs they will try and eliminate them, ensuring that the females will go into oestrus. The social structure of lions is an intriguingly complicated yet strangely rewarding structure. Over a period of two weeks we witnessed the suspense unfold within our own pride of lions, a pride consisting of eight females and ten cubs when two powerful new males arrived from the south. The males were not the fathers of the cubs!
first buffalo taken
We received a radio call that tracks of two male lion were found crossing the river in the southern part of the reserve. Questions were raised as to who these males were and whether the pride's safety was in jeopardy. The pride enjoys the beautiful rocky outcrops in the southern section of Sabi Sabi where they tend to spend most of their time. Oddly enough, the rangers couldn't find them in that area, they only found their tracks heading in a northerly direction. These lions seldom venture to the north and we were left to wonder if the new males' tracks had been the reason for them moving off.
With our minds and roads covered in a web of lion tracks we had no success in finding them until one afternoon game drive. We were overwhelmed when we found them, but were also shocked to find the two male lions together with the females on the remains of a buffalo. The scene was electric with the fierce energy between the males and females. Two females were next to the buffalo trying to feed but the males so often reminded them with paws and claws that they owned the carcass. Across the males, buffalo and three lionesses, we could see the rest of the pride, crouched almost hidden in the grass. On numerous occasions I could see different rangers counting in attempt to determine if all of the cubs were still alive, but with them not moving a muscle we had no luck. Adding all our clues and the events of the last couple of days we came to these conclusions; the males were not the fathers of the cubs, the females were successful in hunting the buffalo and the males caught up with the females soon after they brought it down. We watched how the lionesses tried to feed on their buffalo but were unsuccessful. The males were past the point of hunger but still they kept from sharing. The pride lost interest in their stolen buffalo and slowly moved away leaving the males behind.
successful second buffalo
In the days that followed we watched how hyenas and vultures pushed the fat male lions further and further away from the remains. At the same time we kept track of the pride's movements. We could see that the pride was eager to hunt again and the ideal opportunity crossed their path; a large herd of buffalo. These females are known for hunting buffalo successfully and when we found them once again on the remains of yet another buffalo we were relieved. With the male lions still sleeping off their large intake, the females took their time in finishing their buffalo before they made their journey back to the south.
Only six of the eight females could be found while out on game drive and it left us wondering as to the whereabouts of their sisters. Clearly the male lions were not forgotten news, as days later rangers reported that the two male lions had been successful in finding their own food, and with them, surprisingly, were two lionesses. With the cubs out of the equation the energy in the air was completely the opposite. The males allowed the females to feed and sleep in close proximity to the carcass without any hostile behaviour towards them. Although one male still had eyes only for the buffalo, his brother's intentions were slightly different. One of the females showed no aggression towards the male when he approached her, tested her urine, courted and mated with her.
Still astonished by the female's behaviour and the consequences that might come from it, we wait and watch with great anticipation and suspense what the future holds for the Southern Pride and the two males.