On the morning game drive of 28 April, I witnessed a spirited scene involving four lions. I managed to capture the whole event on camera – a first for me. There is a lot going on in this scene, so I have laid it out in detail.
The males were the two that have been recently seen around Lion Sands – the Avoca males. They have been busy scent marking and roaring – signs that they might be claiming this area as their own. They were alongside the two Eyrefield females, who they have been mating with quite often in recent months – but there are no new cubs, that we know of, yet.
For the purpose of this story, let’s call the larger male ‘Lion 1’ and the smaller male ‘Lion 2,’ and the larger female ‘Lioness 1’ and the smaller female ‘Lioness 2’. So, Lioness 2 strolled over to Lion 2, lifted her tail, wiggled a bit, and trotted off. The technical term for females displaying to males like this is ‘lordosis’. He immediately got up and followed. She trotted further, he stopped, she circled back, he followed, she trotted off again, he stopped again. I actually felt kind of sorry for him! It was hot, and he was clearly making some effort.
Anyway, she ended up waiting for him, and they mated, around 40m from the vehicle. As is standard for mating lions, it is sometimes noisy, and the male often beats a hasty retreat for fear of getting a good, hard slap from the female. Like quite a few mammals, especially felines, the penis of a lion has backward-facing barbs on it, so it can be sore when he leaves the female, hence her aggression towards him. You can see the look on the poor guy’s face, knowing that she was not going to be pleased with his departure.
Then everyone settled back down again, moving further apart and into the shade. Around 30 minutes later, just as we were about to leave, Lioness 2 got up again, and after spending a few moments having a think about her options, she decided to approach Lion 1. As she sauntered over, Lion 1 stood up to follow her. Lion 2 then also stood up. Lioness 1 was left sleeping peacefully around 50m away.
Lion 2 followed her again, as Lion 1 also made moves towards her. Lioness 1 then stood up and followed the three others. Lioness 2, the female who had initiated all of this, then made a swift exit, while both of the males started chastising the innocent bystander, Lioness 1. It all seemed a little bit unfair to me.
I am not even going to try and guess what exactly was going on – it’s difficult to interpret from a human perspective. But there were certainly some very interesting dynamics at play here. The end result was everyone making peace again within about 10 minutes and lying back down. A wonderful sighting to remember. Let’s hope that the final result will be some little lion-shaped balls of fluff on the property soon…
Words and photos by: Field Guide Kelly Oldaker