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Lion Dynamics

01/02/2012 – Lion dynamics

On a recent trip to the Savanna Private Game reserve in the Sabi Sands game reserve, I was once again lucky enough to see the mighty and famous Mapogo male lion coalitions and one of the resident female prides, the Ximungwe pride.  These lions are one the main reasons why I am so fascinated by lion behaviour, and I have learnt so much about pride dynamics from them. I have had countless sightings with these incredible lions over the years, and even though they are now in the twilight of their dominance, they still surprise me.

We were on an afternoon game drive at Savanna Private Game reserve when we received a call that the resident Ximungwe pride had made an impala kill. It was only a two month old lamb, so the prize was a small one. As the sun had gone down, we knew the interactions would be great, and would add to my guests experience. Now, with one of the Mapogo males with the pride, it was definite that the male would takeover the carcass and feed until he was satisfied. There was a brief scuffle, but the females and cubs reliquished there hard earned prize, and left the male to it. With him gorging himself, another of the Mapogo males had heard the commotion, and rushed in to see if he could get a piece of the action. Now, if you have seen male lions in a coalition before, you will know they are very close bonds between. However, these are all lost in the heat of the moment when food is around. Another almighty scuffle erupted, with the original mapogo claimimg what was left of the kill. The entering Mapogo sheepishly moved away, and in true male lion arrogance, found a female and proceeded to make his breeding intentions known.

During all of this, the cubs (All male, three  9 months old and one 6 months) were completely focused on the male devouring the carcass. Bit by bit they crept closer and closer, until all four were right below the male lions nose. This is extremely dangerous territory, as mentioned above male lions are different creatures when food is involved! Showing classic submissive cat behaviour, they tried everything to get a piece of the carcass. Each time the male would growl loudly, and they would back off. What is strange, is that he was remarkably calm about the cubs, and would just give a warning grunt each time they approached. Eventually, the smallest and most adventurous cub could not stand it any longer, and dashed in, with three others close behind. With a quick, firm couple of paw swipes, the male showed the cubs exactly what he thought of this! All cubs were swatted away, but not without the smallest cub getting a large piece of impala leg. The smallest and lighest cub had triumphed!

However, a tug of war ensued between the four cubs, with the smallest more than holding his own. Grunts, growls, hissing and fighting ensued, and if you have not had the privilage of hearing this, I can assure you that the noise is breathtaking! The leg was quickly finished, and the cubs turned their attenttion back to the male and the remainder of the carcass. At this point the male decided he had enough, and the cubs all launched in for a feeding frenzy. Again, the smallest and lighest cub came away with the prize!. More growling, fighting, paw slapping and aggression ensued, and slowly but surely the little cub was losing his grip. This led to one more almighty cub battle, which caused the male to return with aggressive intent. Enter the lionesses. The saying ‘hell hath no fury like a women scorned’ should be changed to ‘hell hath no fury like a protective lioness!!’. The lionesses saw the danger that the male lion possesed, and rose like a stallion on her back legs, giving the male three almighty paw swipes on his nose. Unbeknown to us, during all this, the smallest cub saw his oppurtunity, and once again outwitted his siblings! We quickly focused on the carcass again and saw the three cubs staring in bewilderment, as the smallest cub had dashed off with the spoils.

Moments like these when I see the raw power and behaviour of lions, makes me respect them even more. It was an amazing evening to share with guests, and I am sure they left with phenomenal memories permanently etched of what amzing creatures lions are.

As the action was so intense, I watched than rather pick up my camera. Below are some pictures of the cubs and an example of the scuffle that ensued.


Chris Renshaw: Co-owner Safari Architects