Seeking Refuge

by Ranger, Pieter Van Wyk

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Lion close-up
Extreme detailed close up of female African lioness eye looking at camera

The Styx pride

has been viewed on Mala Mala for close on four decades now and, like all prides, they’ve had their ups and downs. 2016 was a particularly difficult year with several male coalitions competing for dominance in the area, while ‘drought-induced’ mange killed off three litters. In fact, the youngest lioness (now a mother herself) was a member of the last litter to be successfully raised to independence! The late Manyeleti males’ powerful reign at that time ensured safe upbringing for her and her three litter mates but when their fathers moved west, instability followed. Since then four different coalitions of males sought dominance over the pride and that is three too many for any pride looking to raise any offspring.

The Gowrie male coalition emerged victoriously and claimed dominance over the pride, bringing with them some much-needed stability and they soon fathered three litters. However, the Gowrie males also brought with them something other than stability: Mange, a highly contagious infestation of Sarcoptes scabiei canis, burrowing mites. These parasites dig into and through the skin, causing intense itching from an allergic reaction to the mite and crusting that can quickly become infected. We cannot state as fact but we do believe that the prevailing drought at the time played a pivotal role in the contraction and spreading of this skin disease. What we can state as fact is this: We believe in our policy of non-intervention when it comes to the natural occurrences of free-ranging animals within the reserve, which is an open ecological system. Doing the right thing is often far from easy and this was most certainly the case here. We could only watch as the three litters withered away.

Lion and safari van banner
Styx Pride - Photo by Ranger, Pieter Van Wyk

The Gowrie males then sired another three litters, totaling eight cubs. They are all still alive today and range from 18 months of age to just over two years. Mange is still present in the pride but the lions appear to be well on their way recovery. By allowing nature to run its course we also allow natural selection to play its part and the surviving lions will be stronger for it.
In 2018 the Gowrie males shifted their attention onto the Kam bu la pride and all but abandoned the Styx pride. However, their presence in the general area had been enough to keep other males at bay … until recently. A new coalition of three males has moved into the land to our north. As a result, the Torchwood pride, Nkuhuma pride and the Styx pride all shifted south and for a while we were viewing these prides in uncomfortably close proximity to each other. Three’s a crowd and with the imminent threat posed to the cubs by the male impostors came decision time and the lionesses had to act swiftly. We believe that their current and seemingly random movements are the result of that decision; a deliberate attempt to flee out of harm’s way.
These 11 lions have jumped out of the frying pan and now they need to avoid the fire. They are effectively refugees in hostile territory. But, the Styx pride has already stood the test of time and we’re optimistic that they’ll keep on standing for years to come.

Travelling to MalaMala