There has certainly been no shortage of lions these past few weeks here at Sabi Sabi. From large dark manes to small mohawks, heavily pregnant lionesses to lionesses with the cutest cubs; we have had our fair share of spectacular lion sightings. This has given me an opportunity to spend some time observing the interactions between, and the different aspects of these incredible felines.
There is nothing as impressive as a fully grown male lion in his prime. They are equipped with large manes that serve to protect the neck region during fights and give the appearance of a much larger and more intimidating individual. The size and darkness of their manes may also be an indication of higher testosterone levels, making males who possess these more desirable by females and therefore tend to sire more cubs.
With their cubs and lionesses to protect, it is important that males perform their role in protecting their territories. This is done by patrolling the boundaries of their territories and scent marking them, along with vocalising. These loud roars that pierce the silent nights and cool mornings serve as a warning to potential intruders of their presence and keep the cubs they have sired out of harm’s way; however, this protection comes at a cost. When feeding, the large males are usually the first to eat and will push females and cubs away from a kill until all the “prime cuts” have been eaten and they have had their fill.
I have also found watching the dynamics between females quite interesting. Being the only sociable of the big cats, this complex communal lifestyle comprises of a two to sometimes twenty or more related females. This allows them to hunt more successfully and gives them the ability to monopolise territories that often run through rivers and watering holes where prey species often come to drink. Smaller prides, like the Southern Pride lioness and her cubs are pushed to the edges of these prime real estates.
The larger prides of lionesses also have the luxury of raising their young together, or so they say… Over the past 7 weeks, I have seen the the three Styx Pride lionesses frequently, two of which have seven cubs between them, and I have watched the interaction between the lionesses and their cubs. There have been a few incidences of violence in the form of snarls and growls that we have witnessed at these creches. One of the females, who at that stage did not have any cubs, seemed unreceptive to the cubs trying to feed from her, and the lactating females seemed to only tolerate suckling from what we assume were their own cubs.
Pride dynamics aside, watching the cubs was intriguing and very entertaining. The cute little fur balls seemed to have endless energy and were always up to mischief. One of my favourite moments was watching one of them sneak up on the grumpy mother while her other cubs suckled and help itself to an empty nipple!
The cubs, much like the females, also seem to be drawn to the dark maned males, but with a different motive in mind… The males have been harassed by tiny teeth and nails clawing and biting the ends of their tails and their manes, and we have all enjoyed their antics thoroughly!