HI, and welcome to my blog! I am a field guide in a private game reserve in South Africa and below you will find stories and pictures of my amazing job!

March 4, 2013

This! Is! Sparta!

          Ok, so the line from 300 might be a little cheesy or perhaps even lost on some of you but the parallels are rather relevant at the moment.  The dynamics of the lion population at Sabi Sabi has been crying out for change of late.  The epic nature of the Southern Pride’s reign has limited the movements of the other prides in the area for many years now.  They have in fact been responsible for reducing the neighbouring Charleston pride to just 1 lone female and her 2 sub adults only last year.  In keeping with the title of the blog, they are the equivalent of the Persians, conquering all before them, under the guidance of their king, Xerxes.  Xerxes was one man, whose confidence and success in battle was mainly due to the fearsome nature of his loyal 150,000 strong army.  In the microcosm that is Sabi Sabi, the Kruger male has been able to expand and more importantly, hold his territory thanks to the unstoppable force that is the mighty Southern Super Pride.  A pride of 18 lions is a fearsome unit and thus far has ruled the southern Sabi Sands with unwavering ferocity.

The Kruger male sports a nasty scar on his nose probably sustained during a feeding frenzy

The eyes of the Kruger male miss nothing

The KNP male emerges from the darkness on another territorial patrol

          However, in recent weeks, the area has seen the arrival of 2 new players.  The Sparta males from the east have been launching forays deeper and deeper into the Southern Pride’s territory.  An interesting coalition consisting of 2 unrelated males, one a magnificent male in his prime, the other a young warrior, fast maturing into a supreme specimen, the Sparta males seem to mean business.  The growing strength and confidence of the younger male has no doubt sparked this latest activity.  He seems to be exerting dominance over his elder partner and his desire for a territory of his own is obvious.  When the pair are on the move, it is always the younger that takes the lead.  Youthful exuberance and fearlessness seems to be driving the pair to confrontation, with the elder member being swept up in the occasion. 

The younger of the Spartans mounts his older associate in a show of dominance

One of the Spartan's attention is attracted by noise in the grass close by

The younger Spartan shows off his fearsome arsenal

          For the lone Kruger male, this invasion could spell disaster for his reign as experience can only account for so much.  After a while, the math becomes self-explanatory: in a 2 vs. 1 confrontation, the mighty KNP male’s match may well be met.  However, the KNP has not been king for nearly 2 years without his share of cunning.  Since the arrival of the Spartans, he has not left the side of the pride, safe in the knowledge that even with 2 males hunting him down, the protection of Mandleve and the other 6 females is invaluable.

Mandleve and her cubs play in the road

Mandleve shrugs off her cubs' affectionate advances

One of the Southern Pride females hurdles a cub as she dismounts a fallen marula tree

The Southern Pride youngsters play on a fallen marula tree

          The Spartans must rely on a divide and conquer strategy to survive.  If they can separate the KNP male from his battalions, they stand a good chance of taking over the prime territory of the Southern Pride and the rich breeding opportunity the females present.  During the past weeks, the Spartans have ventured deep into the pride’s home and have been heard roaring and scent marking – an unmistakable challenge to the current king.  The bold nature of the takeover bid matches the self-confidence shown by king Leonidas’ small, but elite, fighting force to hold the Persian hoards at bay against all odds.  However, if and when the 2 armies meet, the spectacle promises to be far more explosive than Hollywood can convey!  The Spartans must rely on cunning to succeed and timing is key.  The Southern pride are masters tacticians however and have continued to avoid the advancing Spartans.  Their ploy of unity has caused trepidation amongst the Spartans.  The sound of the Kruger male’s battle cry in tandem with 7 adult females and 6, more than competent, sub-adults has caused the Spartans to retreat for now.  They are still inside the territorial boundary but seem to buying time to work out their strategy.  No victory will be forthcoming against greater numbers with rash decisions.

The younger Spartan's mane is developing fast

The other Spartan gives us a great side profile shot

Ever alert, the older Spartan scans the horizon

          What promises to play out soon within the battle ground of Sabi Sabi is all out war.  Should the Spartans succeed in usurping the KNP male, it will bring about a fascinating twist in our dynamics.  The 4 sub adult males will be chased away for certain and the fate of the 4 cubs, losing the protection of their father, will be a foregone conclusion.  Or will it?  The Southern pride has proved time and time again that the females are a formidable force even without the presence of a male.  For those of you that are unaware, the 6 sub adults in the pride are no relation to the KNP male.  When he and his now deceased brother took control of the area some 2 years ago, they tried in vain to eradicate the genetics of its former rulers.  The cunning and strength of the females eventually culminated in them adopting the 6 cubs and raising them as their own.  This is highly unusual in the harsh world of lion population dynamics and proved beyond all doubt that these females are not to be underestimated.  Perhaps the same thing will happen this time around?  After all, the Spartan army managed to continue to defy the odds despite the loss of king Leonidas at the hands of the Persians…  Perhaps the pride will split?  Perhaps the KNP male will form a coalition with the 4 sub adult males?  The possibilities in the infinity choices of nature are fascinating and we wait with baited breath for the outcome of the mighty battle that is soon sure to rage