The Makings of a Super Pride

To tell the truth, I hate the term “super pride” when it comes to describing a large pride of lions. I also sometimes feel that the term is used a little too lightly to describe any sizeable group of lions and gets bandied about so much that it loses its meaning. It reminds me of that famous “Battle at Kruger” YouTube video – which if memory serves correct, was at one point the most viewed video on YouTube – and the flurry of far-less-exciting animal interaction videos that followed and tried to get extra traction from the Battle at Kruger viral sensation by naming the video “Battle at (Whatever Place Needs a Social Media Engagement Injection)”. Another reason for my dislike of the term may also be simply because during my 15 years of guiding in the Timbavati, I have never been able to use the term…until now.

Having a little search on Google doesn’t reveal the exact pride requirements necessary to be given the name “super pride”, but where the term is used, it seems to universally refer to prides larger than twenty individuals.

One page comments that a coalition of five or more males is a requirement of a true super pride, but as coalitions of this size are so rare, it seems like a very limiting requirement (which is perhaps not a bad idea, but it would make this blog post redundant, so for now, I will choose to ignore it.). Even without an unusually large coalition of males, it takes some effort for a pride to attain more than twenty pride members. Fortunately, there are presently two prides that move through the Tanda Tula concession that now number over twenty lions, and both are still growing.

The Mayambula Pride in the east, close to Tanda Tula Safari Camp, have just introduced their six newest members to us, and their addition to the pride brings their total size to 26 lions. The two Skorro pride males have sired seventeen cubs with six of the seven adult lionesses in the pride, and there is still one lioness that needs to drop her litter of cubs. At 26 lions, I don’t think many would dispute the super pride title, but with another two or three cubs likely to be added before the end of the year, we could soon have a pride of just shy of 30 lions walking around the central Timbavati for the first time in decades. Now I am not under any false pretences that all seventeen-plus cubs will survive to adulthood (or even sub-adulthood), but so far the pride hasn’t lost a single cub from any of the litters. Even if a couple of cubs don’t make it, in a year we could have a pride consisting of around 25 adults and subadults walking around, and that is something that makes me very excited! The plains game and prey species in the area will no doubt be a little less excited, as a pride that size will be a living eating machine. Already we are beginning to see the pressure of feeding so many mouths affecting the pride in the manner in which they are not only moving around their territory but also having to push beyond their traditional ranges in search of food. The older cubs are at an age now where they can still be left alone when the adults go hunting, but as they grow up, they will start to follow the pride on their nightly forays. Their eagerness and inexperience will no doubt make for a disastrous combination when it comes to ensuring a successful hunt, and the pride will have an even tougher time providing for all of the members’ energy requirements – especially for those that are requiring an ever-increasing amount of food, but having a negative impact on the pride’s ability to provide it.

If the pride can make it through these upcoming trying times, then they will reap the rewards as the young adults begin to positively add towards the pride’s hunting skillset and its concurrent increase in hunting prowess that two dozen skilled hunters bring; when this happens, the prey won’t stand much chance.

I do know that this period of predatory power is still some time away, and much can happen in the interim. The six Birmingham Breakaway males have moved out of the area for the time being, but when they do return, they will be bigger and more confident, and neither is ideal for the defending Skorro males. Incoming lions aside, there is also the strong possibility of the Mayambula Pride splitting up into smaller fragments, with the mothers and the older cubs going off as one portion, and the younger lionesses and their small cubs going off as another. This wouldn’t be a permanent separation, and the pride would likely mix and match at different times, but it would make meeting the energy requirements of the pride somewhat easier when acting in smaller fragments.

The good news is that the Mayambula Pride are not the only lions going through this transition to a “super pride”. Closer to Tanda Tula Plains Camp, the Giraffe Pride is approaching a similar size. The pride presently consists of two males, six adult females, and sixteen cubs of various ages (the six smallest cubs haven’t been introduced to us yet, but we do get to see the ten bigger ones when they come into our area) for a total of 24 lions. With these two large prides around, it is perhaps no surprise that the smaller prides such as the River Pride have moved out of the area.

I gave up on trying to predict lion dynamics a long time ago, but the growth of these two prides over the past year has made for some interesting times, and if all goes well, we are in for an exciting year ahead, one that will hopefully be filled with lots and lots of lions. And who knows, with so many lions around we might even be able to produce our own Battle at Tanda Tula video for you all to enjoy.

Until next time…