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Part one: ‘The Heart of a Lion’ – the history of Lion Sands’ young Charleston male

Lion Sands Blog | Part One The Heart of a Lion  | Wildlife Blog

“The story of the young Charleston male and his pride is a story of compassion, resilience and the will to survive.”

Over the next two weeks we’ll be bringing you the story of the Charleston Pride lineage, and how a young lion is surviving against all odds.

The story of lions is one of resilience. As much as life may seem easy for the fiercest predator in Africa, the reality can be harsh and brutal. It’s a struggle every day to hunt, fight against competition, and feed a family.  The lions of Lion Sands have a rich history of ever-changing dynamics. Their story is one of immense power and triumph, as well as loss and heartbreak.

The story begins with the mother of this male lion, called the Charleston female. She has a rich history of her own (which we will write about in a future post). For now, all you need to know is that she was a lone lioness whose pride was killed by other lions, and was raising her two cubs called the young Charleston males (not to be confused with the Charleston lions) on her own.

During the time when the young Charleston males were growing, a neighbouring pride called the Hilda’s Rock Pride was attacked by the Southern Pride over a territory dispute, leaving only one lioness and one cub alive. The two managed to survive on their own until one day the mother was killed, leaving the Hilda’s Rock male an orphan without any pride or protection. During this time, the Hilda’s Rock male was understandably highly stressed, and was seen skittish and frantically running around looking for his mother. It was a terribly anxious time for him and this caused his mane to fall out, which to this day – a year later – hasn’t grown back.

This is where the stories of the Charleston and Hilda’s Rock lions connect. After two months of fending for himself, the Hilda’s Rock male approached the lone Charleston female with her two cubs. Very nervous around a male lion who could potentially kill her cubs, she fiercely guarded them and would not let this new male approach.

For a few months, the young Hilda’s Rock male trailed the Charleston group. Slowly over time, the female permitted him to get closer and closer and she eventually came to realise that the Hilda’s Rock male was not a threat to her family. Unbelievably, she went on to adopt him, a completely unrelated young male, despite an extra cost associated with protecting and feeding another cub with little added benefit to her family. It’s not clear why she adopted him. Perhaps she knew this cub was in need and felt compelled by a very strong maternal instinct.

For close to a year, they stayed together as a unit until tragically the Charleston female died. No one is certain how, but it was a tremendous loss of a beloved female. Without their matriarch, the 3 surviving males traveled together as a coalition. The young Charleston males were only about 2 years old at the time, and still too young to survive on their own. Even with the protection of a slightly older male, it would be an uphill battle to survive in a place where competition is fierce and predator density is high.

After several months, the Hilda’s Rock male separated from the young Charleston males and formed his own coalition with an unknown male from the Kruger National Park. Following the split, the two young Charleston males were frequently seen around Lion Sands together.

Despite the odds, the two males were surviving and thriving. If they could keep it up, perhaps in two or three years they could take over a territory here. But very sadly, one of the brothers was killed. He died in the most unjust and unbefitting way for such a survivor – at the hand of man. He was caught in a snare last month and despite our efforts to assist, he succumbed to his injuries.

The Lion Sands Field Guiding team, who know of the immense struggle of these young brothers who have overcome so much, did not take the news easily. But as is often the case with a lion’s story, something surprising was to happen next. The day after his brother died, the remaining young Charleston male was seen together with the coalition of his adopted brother, the Hilda’s Rock male. The two hadn’t been seen together in 4 months since they originally separated, but immediately came together when the remaining young Charleston male needed the protection of other lions.

It was simply incredible. How did they come together so quickly after the brother died? Why would the Hilda’s Rock male come now after leaving the two of them months ago? Will they stay together in the future? Read more about the history of the Charleston pride and the Charleston female’s fight for survival in Part Two next week.

Written by Charlotte Arthun

Pictures by Field Guide Mark Winckler and Charlotte Arthun

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