Shenton Safaris

Video: Lion pride politics

Written by: Erin Long

We were on safari in the Kruger region this August when we came upon one of the Styx lionesses with her young cub and a sub-adult female all sleeping in the morning sun. We were told by our ranger, that the sub-adult female’s father was a Nkuhuma male lion. 

Unfortunately for her, the Nkuhuma lion is no longer in power, and the Matimba males are now in charge. The sub-adult female had been seen with her sister, separated from the pride, as the Matimba males have no use for them – at approximately two years old, they are not of breeding age.

The sisters had been surviving off small kills but she was obviously very malnourished. The young cub was fathered by one of the Matimba male lions, and fortunately it was under his protection.

As we were watching the sleeping lions, we noticed one of the Matimba male lions approaching.


He started stalking the sleeping lions. As he approached, the sub-adult adapted a very submissive pose, basically flattening her body to the ground, looking down and avoiding eye contact.

He then viciously attacked her.

lion-fight-mala-mala lion-attacking-young-female-cub pride-politics dominate-male-attacking-other-lions-offspring lion-attacking-cub pride-fight

His cub fortunately scampered away to safety, as the scrappy and scrawny sub-adult lioness fought for her life. She snarled, growled, and clawed at him, at one point grabbing on to his mane in a desperate attempt to survive.


Fortunately, he lost interest and walked a short distance away. The commotion summoned the second Matimba male but as he approached, he got a thorn in his paw, which certainly did not improve his mood.


He then too attacked the sub-adult female, pausing for a duelling roar with the other male, who was resting in the shade. The lioness and cub watched from a short distance away as he attacked the sub-adult female again. The sub-adult female was injured adjacent to the spine, but fortunately it did not seem to impair her movement.

lion-fight male-lion-attacking-young-female male-attacking-cub-in-mala-mala lion-versus-cub-fight

When we left lions, there seemed to be somewhat of a truce, and the Matimba males and the lioness with her cub were sleeping together in the shade, while the sub-adult lioness was licking her wounds a short distance away, having, luckily, survived her ordeal.

lion-and-cub cub-and-its-parent lioness-injury lion-wound

Reports subsequent to this attack have stated that one of the adult lionesses of the Styx pride was killed by another coalition, the Birmingham males. According to reports both sub-adult lionesses are still alive, along with the lioness featured in this episode. Sadly, the cub has not been seen in the last week.

Watch this incredible video of the event by Kathy Long:

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  • Annie Worthington

    Where was the sub adult’s mom? Was her mom the other lioness in the film? Seemed like the males were picking on her BC they certainly could of killed her? Did they kick her out of the pride?

    • Rahz

      The male lions were picking on her because she is not their offspring and is not of mating age, she is useless to them. When male lions take over a pride from another Male lion or lions, they kill all the young and babies/cubs in the pride to bring the females into estrus so they can mate with the females and put out there genetics and protect their own offspring not the ousted Male Lion or Lions offspring. The name for this behavior is called Infanticide.

      • Lion Lover

        Of course, there are exceptions to that rule. It has happened where lions have accepted the whole pride, including the cubs, after taking over a pride. Certainly, not what we consider normal lion behaviour though.

        • Rahz

          There may be a case of this but I have never heard or seen that happen. It wouldn’t be beneficial in any way for a Male lion to keep another Male lions cubs and to put energy into doing that instead of raising their own cubs.

      • Elaina Deva

        So that little one is dead? it was looking at that male so innocently and mama was filled with anger…I wish all those females could unite and kick the crap out of those Bully’s SO Cruel….this is..

        • Chris Voets

          It’s not cruel, it’s Nature. It’s important for the new male to get his genes into that pride, and the only way he can do that is to get the females to have his own cubs. That’s just the way it works. The only REAL cruel creatures on this planet are humans, as they’re the only ones that do things deliberately and with no purpose but their own pleasure and agenda. All that matters in Nature is survival of the species.

          • Elaina Deva

            Yes Chris I agree about humans and while I understand about what and why their behavior is this way it is truly sad for me to watch this… to bad this one did not accept them

        • Rahz

          They sometimes due unite but they need males to protect them from other males.

  • Sheila

    Of course, there are exceptions to that rule. It has happened where lions have accepted the whole pride, including the cubs, after taking over a pride. Certainly, not what we consider normal lion behaviour.

  • S.w. Tsang

    Poor sub , looked like her sister had not been sharing their small kill at all . Her sister looks heathy & the cub had a fat belly. I just hope the baby was safe & will be with the 2 .

  • Patima

    I hope that this 2 sub adult females will survive…

  • Elaina Deva

    Just awful to watch she was SO Strong and Brave Praying for the females and cubs this is horrible

    • Elaina Deva

      She was also so Thin can see her rib cage and bones so sad

  • Tim James Musumba

    What i always wonder about Lion’s is this.Once they sense danger why don’t they run away?!Why didn’t this sub adult lioness take off when the first Matimba had lost interest in hurting her?!Then again she could evidently see the second Matimba come for her,get a thorn stuck in his paw but just stuck around there watching!Many a times Lion’s die for lack of intelligence!They court death or injury even when there is enough time for them to take off!

  • Tim James Musumba

    The first Male was Belly Hair to arrive followed by Ginger if i am not wrong!

  • Chris Voets

    What fantastic photographs, thank you so much for sharing! WOW!!

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Africa Geographic