Leopard Mountain Safari Lodge is family owned and run lodge situated in the 23000ha Manyoni Private Game Reserve in Zululand.
At the start of 2017, there were 21 lions on the reserve with roughly 4 “prides” and two male coalitions moving between the prides. The prides are small, consisting of 3 to 7 lions per pride and do not strictly “belong” to either male coalition as such. The males roam between these females and steer clear of each other. Females will only avoid males when they have offspring not belonging to a coalition – as males will remove cubs and offspring that they did not sire.
Originally we had 3 territorial brothers who covered the reserve and females. Due to their age (c. 9 years) and the need to reduce inbreeding, it was decided that 2 new males should be introduced. Prior to this introduction, movement and territories of the lions were all relatively predictable. The three prides are as follows:
• Pride of 7: two adult females. One female with two subadults, male and female. And the other female with three female subadults. This pride often splits off into the two adult females and five subadults. These lions tend to dominate the northern part of the reserve.
• Pride of 3: one adult female with two adult females (daughters). These three tend to stay in the east of the reserve.
• Pride of 4: two adult females (mother – Brandy – and daughter) with two subadult males – these four tend to roam the west and south, including Leopard Mountain whom they frequent often.
“Brandy” and her three offspring were often seen on Leopard Mountain Lodge road, casually strolling along paths through the chalets as well as lounging about at the pond. They are quite territorial of the area and have fought off the northern pride of seven when they took down two wildebeest at Leopard Mountain staff accommodation.
The introduction of two Kalahari brothers changed up the politics quite substantially. In their prime (c. 4-5 years) with loads of experience – coming from a reserve with other males – they were sure to “stir the genetic pot” quite a bit. In November 2016, the decision to bring in new genes was made, and the Kalahari boys were brought into the predator boma on Manyoni Private Game Reserve. In January 2017, they were released into the wild with collars to monitor their movements for the first couple of months. All was well in the first few months as the Kalahari boys were finding their feet in their new environment. It seemed as if the Kalahari boys had established their territory in the north while the old boys kept to the south – but things were about to heat up. Youth and experience, as well as strategy, outplayed numbers when the Kalahari boys caught the “old boys” individually and defeated the “old boys” in two separate confrontations. This ended with the old boys retreating to the southern fence line where they remained for almost 6 months – rarely venturing far.
The Kalahari boys in the meantime controlled most of the females and successfully impregnated two, including Brandy’s daughter. She later gave birth to four beautiful and healthy cubs here on Leopard Mountain, where they remain, whilst the “old boys” stay down south. Brandy and the two subadult males have since “abandoned” their daughter and sister, respectively, and gone up north. Brandy’s daughter has been truly successful for a first-time mother and has solely taken down two kudu bulls. The subadult males throughout the reserve are constantly fleeing for their lives from the Kalahari males.
The composition of the northern pride of seven has since changed as well. The three sisters have been relocated to a nearby reserve and the mother of these three has had two cubs – the second female to be covered by the Kalahari males. She has also secluded herself from the pride leaving her and her cubs, the two subadults, and the other female to form their own units – Brandy from the south is often seen with this northern female.
It seemed as if the “old boys” were just biding their time and recuperating – the Kalahari boys made their move and made the long journey down south to end the rivalry once and for all. A two-on-one and one-on-one battle started where this time youth and experience was not enough. The Kalahari boys were forced to retreat, both looking worse for wear, but one brother was a lot worse off. After a few days, the healthier of the two left his wounded brother to fend for himself and fled north. The wounded brother had a bad encounter with a herd of buffalo and was seen hurled a few meters into the air by a disgruntled buffalo. He, sadly, has not been seen since.
*On a side note: One of the “old boys” was sold off to a reserve nearby and a few days later was seen reunited with his two brothers on the reserve. This means that he had escaped a boma, as well as a perimeter fence, crossed through farmlands, crossed over freeways and made his way back onto our reserve to be with his brothers once again. These three boys have a bond like no other.*
The three “old boys” now confidently roam the reserve, occasionally even actively chasing the remaining Kalahari male whenever the chance arises. They cover huge distances over the course of a few days to “keep the females in check” as well as mark territories and possibly even remove the offspring of the Kalahari males. Before, male lions were rarely heard as to not give away their location – presently, the three “old boys” are confidently letting the Kalahari males know that they are strong and healthy, as their roars are heard all night, constantly on the move.
The lion politics seem to be back to a standard, but what the future brings we will most likely find out soon.