If you’ve been following our lion stories, you’ll know that their dynamics are currently in a state of flux. Prides and coalitions are moving in and out of Lion Sands Game Reserve. We don’t have a dominant coalition at the moment, but top contenders on the reserve are the three Tsalala Males and two Avoca Males.
The three Tsalala Males: how we often find them – together, sleeping
The Tsalala Males are a group of relatively young lions (nearly five years old), who come from the central Sabi Sand, and have been around Lion Sands Sabi Sand for a few years now. While they have numbers on their side, they are still inexperienced. It could be another few years before they are in their prime and ready to take over this prized territory.
The young Avoca Males have only recently begun appearing at Lion Sands
The Avoca Males coalition began consistently turning up at Lion Sands Sabi Sand a few weeks ago. They have made it known they are also interested in dominating this area, and have been seen patrolling and scent marking, and heard vocalizing. They are slightly older than the Tsalalas (over five years old) and also appear big for their age – with the confidence to go along with it! Perhaps that will be enough for them to fend off the competition.
The Tsalala Males on a zebra kill, January 2018
Over the past 10 days, we have also had several sightings of the Tsalala Males mating with the Eyrefield Lionesses. They stuck around for a few days, together on a zebra kill, and mated during that time. In the past, the Eyrefield Lionesses have been seen mating with all three of the Tsalala Males – a strategy lionesses use to confuse paternity.
We got our hopes up that the Eyrefields would now make Lion Sands their new home, especially in the absence of the Southern Pride of lionesses. The Eyrefields have a history going back over four decades in Sabi Sand. Unfortunately for them, like the Southern Pride, they went through a recent decimation. This caused them to abandon their usual stamping ground, which explains their presence at Lion Sands now that there is a territory available.
However, the hope of a stable near-future for the Tsalala Males and Eyrefield lionesses was short-lived. On 26 March, the guides at Lion Sands Kruger National Park witnessed the unpleasant aftermath of a territorial dispute between the Tsalala and Avoca Males that morning. Despite the Tsalalas having numbers on their side, the Avocas severely injured one of their lions. The guides later saw him in a bad condition, with what appeared to be injuries to his spine. We weren’t able to relocate him for several days afterwards, so were unsure of the extent of his wounds.
Two Tsalala Males were seen together a few days later, moving from Lion Sands Kruger National Park back into Lion Sands Sabi Sand, with no sign of the third. We were worried that their injured brother might not have made it. Thankfully, on 1 April, all three males were seen together, although not in top condition. They will need to hunt soon and recover quickly if they are going to maintain a presence in this area.
An Eyrefield Lioness flirts with an Avoca Male
After the fight between the coalitions, the Avoca Males wasted no time in finding the Eyrefields lionesses again. They were spotted together, with one lioness displaying coy behaviour towards one of the males. We didn’t see them mate, although it is likely they had been. If these lionesses hold back from mating, it would be because they are waiting to see if these males are strong enough to defend the territory and their future offspring.
We will have to wait and see what happens next…
Words and photos by: Charlotte Arthun