A New Era Begins
By Jason Gipson

Following the disappearance of the South Male in August, we have all been waiting with bated breath for how the dynamics of the North and South prides would evolve – and in the last two weeks, there has been some interesting developments! One of the South Pride lionesses has been seen mating, and tensions between the Blonde Male and the Boschgift Males are still very much ongoing, with at least one altercation taking place between them.

We speculated that the South Pride might be first to have some interaction with the various males, because it was right on time for the older lioness in the pride to come into oestrus and be ready to mate again. This is exactly what has happened. On average, a lioness will have a new litter of cubs every two years, and after her most recent litter turned two in August, her next litter was imminent, if not even a little overdue. Of course, breeding opportunities are naturally the driving force for males to take over prides.

We initially found the Blonde Male mating with the older South Pride lioness. When lions mate, they do so very frequently, throughout night and day, and this was no exception with the two staying together for multiple days. There was no sign of the rest of the pride in the area, and although they were mating, this doesn’t necessarily mean that the male has fully taken over the pride. A few days later we found the South Pride all together again, but with one major difference: the Boschgift Males were with them! What a turn of events. Whilst watching the pride, we witnessed one of the Boschgift Males get up and start mating with the same female that had just mated with the Blonde Male a few days prior – a very smart move on her part.

Male lions will kill cubs that are not their own in what is known as infanticide. It’s a brutal process, but they do it to promote their own genetics and spend their time protecting their own cubs rather than their predecessors. But pride takeovers are not always a smooth process. The power struggle between the various contending males often goes back and forth a few times with each being ‘in charge’ for a short period. This power is then solidified by the winner(s) into more permanent control. In such a situation, a lioness could mate with whoever is in charge at the time, only for another male to be in charge by the time she gives birth resulting in infanticide. Lionesses have been known to mate with multiple males during their mating period, especially in situations of uncertainty such as this. This makes all the males think that the cubs are theirs and prevents infanticide. Who says nature isn’t clever?!

Back to our situation, and this is exactly what this lioness has done and Boschgift Males mated with her for a few days, before heading off once again. So, while control of the pride remains undecided, she has secured the safety of her next litter of cubs as best as possible.

The most recent development took place a few nights ago after the Boschgift Males were found north of Speciosa Cliffs, just after sunset. The following morning they were nowhere to be seen, but interestingly, the Blonde Male was found in the same area, still bleeding from numerous cuts and scratches on his face. Fortunately, most of his wounds are superficial but a battle most certainly took place. The Boschgift Males were the obvious suspects, yet when we found them yesterday afternoon neither had a single scratch on them. Could it therefore have been the North Pride?

The North Pride have definitely been in the far northern parts of their territory lately, no doubt taking refuge away from the chaos in the south. They have cubs that are a little bit younger than the South Pride and are therefore at a slightly greater risk from new males taking over their pride. They haven’t been seen in the two days since we found the Blonde Male with his injuries, but if it wasn’t the Boschgift Males then the North Pride is the only other logical answer. Two adult lionesses, protecting the younger pride members could certainly have inflicted those wounds, but until we see them we won’t know for sure and how they fared from the encounter.

The new era has begun, and whilst there has been much action already, there is undoubtedly plenty more to come. Stay tuned!

Images by Ryan Hillier and Tristan Stead