By Akil Halai, Field Operations Coordinator, Asilia Tanzania
Lions (Panthera leo – local name: Simba) are the only felines that form social groups called prides. All other cats are solitary hunters.
Prides are often described as matriarchal because more females belong to a pride, they remain long-term members, and they live longer than male lions. The life of a male lion is socially more precarious than that of a female lion. Males must win their way into a pride of females and once they do, they must fend off challenges from males outside the pride who try to take their place.
Kumi (left) and Grumpy, two dominant pride males
Male lions are in their prime between the ages of 5 and 10 years and often do not live long after that period. Male lions rarely remain part of the same pride for more than 3 or 4 years before more dominant challengers drive them off.
Lionesses from the Ifuguru and Wakali prides
Female lions often give birth at about the same time, which means the cubs within a pride are of a similar age. The females will suckle one another’s young but that doesn’t mean it is an easy life for cubs within a pride. Weaker offspring are often left to fend for themselves and die as a consequence.
Cubs from the Mwanyembe Pride
Lions often hunt together with other members of their pride. The prey they capture usually weighs between 55 and 330kg. When prey within that weight range is not available, lions are forced to either catch smaller prey weighing as little as 15kg or much larger prey weighing as much 500kg. When forced to feed on small prey, lions make the kill and eat their catch by themselves. When forced to eat larger prey, they must hunt in groups and risk injury during a hunt due to the large size of their prey.
Females of the Wakali and Msembe prides
Ruaha National Park in Southern Tanzania holds many prides of lions. The prides I have witnessed have lions in huge numbers, up to 27 lions. I have had the opportunity to spend some time with the different prides during my 3-week stay at Kwihala Camp in the prime central area of the park. We know of 10 different prides co-existing in this beautiful landscape within their own territorial boundaries that they defend from other lions. Lions identify their territory by roaring loudly or by physically scent marking trees or rock outcrops. While female lions will hunt and kill most of the animals for the pride to eat, male lions are around primarily to defend the territory from other lion prides or nomadic male lions.
The Ifuguru Males on a giraffe kill
Due to the fact that these prides of Ruaha contain lions in large numbers, they usually hunt big game. The Bushbuck pride & the Mwayembe pride are known to hunt giraffes and buffalos. Zebra and other medium sized herbivores are just teatime snack for such big prides!
These pictures were taken while spending considerable time in company of these beautiful cats. Many thanks to Lorenzo Rossi (Guide – Kwihala Camp) for his tireless efforts in collection of this data and his good company while enjoying game drives, and for his photo contributions portrayed in this post.
The prides include The Bushbuck pride (up to 27 lions including cubs); The Old airstrip pride (2 big males, 6 females and 4 cubs); the Kumi pride (10 Lions- Kumi means 10 in Swahili); Msembe pride (up to 12 lions); Wakali Pride (14 lions at grid W7 –Grumpy the dominant male, 4 big females, 4 sub adult males, 3 sub adult females and 2 new cubs); Mbagi pride (1 big male, 4 females); Mwayembe pride (21 lions – 1 big old male whom I call Caesar); Mdonya Juu pride (10, 3 males, 4 females and 3 cubs); Ifuguru pride (16 lions, 2 males from the fabulous four coalition still remain part of this group) and the Ikuka pride (4 females and 6 young males – near Mpululu).