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Comeback of the Southern Pride

on Jun 11, 2024

Lion dynamics and prides across our reserve is never ending, with social structures changing from time to time and males coming through, yet the Gijima males have been very successful the last 18 months in securing their territory and ensuring a haven for their female prides. One of these prides that have been very successful is the Southern Pride. With years of hard luck for them and the bloodline relying on only one lioness, she has made all the difference.

Roughly three years ago the Southern Pride lioness gave birth to two lionesses who she raised by herself, ensuring safety and enough nutrients and food for them. She did not stop here and later gave birth to three more cubs, which were two females and one male. Sadly, over time the one male cub was killed by younger males who moved through the area, but nevertheless the two young females managed to survive. About four months ago we were spoiled by finding out one of the eldest daughters had given birth to three little ones which brought the pride numbers back up to eight.

The Southern Pride lioness gave birth to two lionesses

Cubs at this young age are still very vulnerable and only time will tell if all three of them will survive, but this is creating exciting thoughts for the Southern Pride again. Over the next couple of months, they will be facing many obstacles and tough times that they will have to overcome as a pride by working together and ensuring each member of the pride brings their side to ensure a successful group.

About a week ago we set out on a game drive from Earth Lodge and shortly after leaving the lodge we found tracks of lions and we immediately thought of the Southern Pride. After a very short and easy tracking exercise we found the main lioness with her two younger females walking down the road. We followed them for a fair amount of time when we started hearing the contact call of another lioness. We switched the vehicle off to avoid having any unnecessary influence and allowed the beauty of nature to take place in front of us. The contact calling got closer as the main lioness was responding constantly and we watched them reunite. They slowly continued moving deeper into a thicket as the temperature was rising, on the lookout for a comfortable and safe spot to spend the day.

We watched them reunite

After leaving them we continued our drive and found tracks where the whole pride, including the three little ones, crossed into our reserve, immediately making us aware that all eight of them were on our reserve somewhere. We started backtracking until we found where the pride split up during the evening and continued tracking the tracks of the cubs. This is always a very challenging experience as they are often playing around and running in all directions, so my tracker (Donald) and I were really put to the test, but because we both pride ourselves in finishing a job we started…finding these little ones. After numerous times of jumping in and out the vehicle, the tracks led us towards a small rocky outcrop which got us excited immediately. We got to the outcrop and started scouting when the movement caught our eyes, the three young ones!!

But what we found next was completely unexpected. We repositioned ourselves and as we switched the vehicle off to watch them something incredibly special appeared... two tiny cubs, around 6-8 weeks old, appeared. They were inquisitive as to what was going on around them. The second female from the eldest daughters had also given birth and suddenly, we were surrounded by FIVE cubs, increasing the Southern Prides numbers to ten!

We continued our drive and found tracks from the whole pride

We kept our distance and allowed them to settle in our presence. Shortly after, they started moving around from one rock to the next as they were basking in the morning sun warming their little bodies after a cold winter’s evening. We could hear how the smallest two cubs were calling and suddenly, the adult lioness appeared on top of one of the big rocks, keeping a close eye on why the little ones were calling for her. The cubs all made their way towards the lioness, desperately trying to get on top of the rock she was resting on but with no success. They accepted that they were still too small and weak to make the jump and rested below the lioness, absorbing the warmth from the morning sun.

This is incredibly special news for us as the Southern Pride is one of the favourites around our reserve and definitely one of the most difficult prides to track as they are very active and don’t spend much time in the same area.

Absorbing the warmth from the morning sun

On a separate occasion, about four days later, we once again found tracks just outside of Earth Lodge. We started tracking when Donald and I jumped off the vehicle to have a closer look and found the remains of a small buffalo kill that they had made and found tracks heading straight towards a waterhole nearby. As made our way around, we found the pride resting next to the water patiently waiting for the sun to rise so they can warm up their bodies. As the temperature started rising, they made their way further south into our reserve to find a comfortable spot to spend their day.

We once again found tracks just outside of Earth Lodge

This pride has gone from one lone lioness up to three, then up to six whereafter it dropped back down to five, then the numbers climbed again to eight and then once again climbed to ten to what it is today. Is this the beginning of the once dominant Southern Pride?

Only time will tell, but one thing is for sure, these females are not playing around, and they have an extremely close bond with one another.

Blog by Ruan Mey (Earth Lodge Ranger)

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