The fact that lion are prolific breeders is true and one tends to think that the nature of such behaviour is basic biology devoid of all personality. Field guide, Brad Smith, recently captured a chronological, photographic sequence that indicated more of an intimate, lion love-affair.
Lodge guests were thrilled to encounter a group of lion, on a safari drive, adjacent to the Manyoni Private Game Reserve fence-line. In watching the body language and facial expressions between one of the males and a lioness, it became apparent that a special connection had been sparked. The other male sat further apart with his ears turned back.The collared male lay alongside the lioness who was pressed into the soft soil of the road track. At a glance, they appeared in daytime sloth mode.
The first indication that something was afoot became clear when the other male rose and sauntered a few metres down the track. He resumed a back-facing position with his ears tentatively tilted in a listening position, braced with expectancy.
Suddenly, the lioness’s eyes opened and she glared at the human intrusion, rolled upright and raised her head. She seemed to settle sleepily again but the finite flick of her tail revealed an undertone of emotion. She curled her lips and snarled.
The collared male sat patiently and gave a stoic stare at the human onlookers who watched silently. His paws rested gently next to hers. In response to the lioness’s show of fickle aggression, he moved slightly further away and snarled back. She stood up purposefully and walked towards him. The tension in the air was electrifying as the male lay with every muscle tensed in controlled restraint.
In a flirtatious move the lioness rubbed against the male in feline foreplay and the human onlookers were temporarily ignored. The guests felt a paradox of excitement with a sense that this was a sacred moment and perhaps they should also turn their backs respectfully such as the example set by the other male lion. A passionate sequel ensued where the male covered the lioness.
Afterwards, in a submissive role of affection, the lioness flopped onto her back with paws raised playfully up in the air. The lovers returned to reclining positions whilst the collared male resumed a watchful eye directed at the human audience. In an unspoken signal, the other male turned around respectfully to acknowledge the feline couple and confirmed that the intimate deed was done.
The breeding of lions in smaller, private game reserves poses various sets of challenges to conservation managers. Normal pride behaviour in the wild is subjected to regular change of male dominance and each new male kills the offspring from the previous male. Sickness and disease take its toll naturally.
Dane Antrobus, Wildlife Manager at Manyoni Private Game Reserve, said that the reserve ensured that the lion population was “maintained at less than the maximum sustainable yield of Manyoni’s prey populations. In addition, lions are managed to a degree where endangered species such as black rhino, cheetah and wild dog are not impacted negatively. The reserve is a member of the LIMF group (Lion information management forum) and engages with members to find alternative reserves and protected areas that need to introduce lions which are in excess, or genetically unsuitable, to remain at Manyoni.
An effective, daily monitoring, lion system is in place whereby two wildlife monitors and the additional support of the Wildlife Act team work with identification kits which are used to keep track of all the individuals and their lineage. All lions introduced to the reserve undergo veterinary tests, prior to introduction, to test for Feline Aids and Tuberculosis (TB). Animals found to be positive with those diseases are not introduced.”
It is wonderful to know whilst guests enjoy these intimate wildlife encounters at Mavela Game Lodge that there is a team working hard behind the scenes on this 23 000ha reserve, to ensure a healthy and eco-sustainable population of wildlife is a achieved.