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Wildlife  |  7 February 2018

A tribute to the Old South Lioness

It’s been almost two weeks since the Old South Lioness has been seen. We have found the rest of her pride several times during that period, and each time we have been hopeful that the old lioness would be there, that she would have re-joined the pride after a few days alone. So far, each time this has not been the case.

Could this mean that the end for this legendary lioness of Kwandwe has finally come? Sadly, as each day goes by with no sign of her, this looks increasingly likely.

A tribute to the Old South Lioness - 1
A tribute to the Old South Lioness - 2

When she was last seen, in late January, fresh scratches and cuts on her legs and belly suggested she had been involved in a fight. A North Pride lioness, also sporting fresh cuts on her body, was found later that day just a few kilometres away which all but confirmed it. At her great age, a fight and subsequent injuries could easily have meant the end for the old lioness.

If so then, this is certainly the end of an era, because this lioness was no ordinary lioness! 

The last of the ‘originals’, she was introduced to Kwandwe at its inception along with another lioness, to be the first lion pride on Kwandwe and the very beginning of our lion population. These two females would be the founders of all three of the prides (North, South and Boschgift) that we have on Kwandwe today. The average life expectancy for a lioness would be around 15 years, and yet the Old South Lioness at the time of her disappearance was an incredible 18 and a half years old! She has been a fantastic mother, raising an astonishing 8 litters of cubs over the years, dominating the central parts of the reserve initially, before settling for a vast territory in the south of Kwandwe as competition increased. More than once, after spells of being seldom seen, she surprised us by re-appearing with her latest litter of cubs, something that many of us believed at the time was not possible due to her great age!


A tribute to the Old South Lioness - 3
A tribute to the Old South Lioness - 4

And yet, she had her quirks!

The ‘normal’ thing to happen in a lion pride when cubs reach adulthood is that young males are ousted by the dominant pride males into the life of nomads until they have grown enough to compete for territory and control of prides with other males. Female cubs on the other hand, usually remain in the pride, and so the pride grows. The Old South Lioness had other ideas…and her first daughter received no such invitation! Upon reaching maturity she was firmly kicked out of the pride by the Old Lioness and sent out on her own. Although the daughter once tried to re-join the pride when she had her own first litter of cubs, the answer was a resounding “NO!” and the split was permanent. And so, the Boschgift Pride was formed. Not long after this, the Old Lioness performed the same act on her pride mates two daughters, forcing them out too, and they would go on to become the North Pride.

When her pride mate died (from what is believed to be complications when giving birth to her next litter), The Old South Lioness was content to live and raise cubs alone for most of her life, and it is only with her last litter that her daughter has remained with her, and now raised her own litter to near maturity.

And yet there seems to be an ironic twist to the fate of this phenomenal lioness. It was the daughter of one of these two North Pride lionesses, forced out to fend for themselves so many years ago, that is strongly believed to have been in a fight with the Old South Lioness that has led to her disappearance.

Only one question remains, is this really the end of this amazing female? It appears so, and if so she has certainly left behind a great legacy.

But she has surprised us before…


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