August 2021

Best of Enemies


Best of Enemies

Over the last two and a half months there has been an intense war that has been raging in the southern parts of the N’wanetsi concession and as of yet there has been no clear winner. The dominate male lion has been the Kumana male, who at the old age of 11 years old has managed to retain control of his territory after his two brothers nobly perished defending the same territory some seasons ago. But with the arrival of the late winter winds that are typical of this part of the year, change was in the air. In the early hours of the cold winter mornings, roaring could be heard coming from the east over the Lebombo Mountains. In Mozambique a larger, stronger male lion was pushing into his territory…

What commenced over the ensuing weeks was a back and forth battle of teeth and claws, as the male lions tried to wrestle dominance and control of the lower parts of the N’wanetsi concession from each other. In the end it seemed the younger, fitter male had taken the territory from the older, wiser but battle-weary male. Some guests managed to witness some of the clashes but all could see the injuries that both males had inflicted on each other. The shy male from Mozambique’s confidence around vehicles increased with every passing day and he was anointed with the name, the Maputo male.

Over the weeks that followed the Kumana male was usually seen on the periphery of his territory and the conquering male was seen in the central core areas of the prime territory, often with the younger members of the Shishangaan pride. The adults with the cubs had long since disappeared due to the instability caused by the war between the males.

At the end of the month there was to be a twist in the tale that nobody expected. One evening while exploring the hills above the N’wanetsi River, one of the experienced trackers of the area, Solly Ndlovu spotted movement down one of the drainage lines. On investigation this turned out to be the Maputo male lion. He was feeding on a fully grown Cape buffalo bull estimated at between 600-800 kilograms in weight. He gorged himself during the evening and into the morning. When the game drive vehicles arrived the next morning, he was still feeding on the large carcass. As vultures started to gather in the trees above another lion could be heard not far away.

The Maputo male rose up from the half eaten carcass to meet the threat. On the hill above, the old male lion was roaring as he slowly came down the road to where the other lion stood, the Maputo male was very full and his belly looked three times its usual size. He growled and lay down staring at the impressive male lion walking to his position. It was the Kumana male and he was presenting himself to the Maputo male in an aggressive show of force and clearly marking the surrounding vegetation, scuffing the ground with his back feet and urine spraying. After lots of anticipation as to what was going to happen the male lions eventually kept a distance from each other growling and grinning warnings to one another for the rest of the morning.

To everyone’s bewilderment that afternoon they were sharing the carcass side by side! This was completely unexpected and unprecedented behaviour considering the battles they have had. The only explanation could be that the amount of meat on the carcass, and having no females present, could have contributed to this behaviour. The males were seen on the carcass for a few days following and eventually remained together for a few days after.

Male lions in southern Africa and the Kruger National Park typically live in coalitions. Actual coalition sizes can vary from two males to seven males. These coalitions are normally made up of lions that are brothers, and often half-brothers or even cousins. They usually have their beginnings when these males are all still cubs, living in their natal pride. It has been recorded though that unrelated males may join up and form coalitions later in their lives, but these two males are far apart in terms of age. Only time will tell if they will remain together in the future, as this story has not yet ended.