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Shenton Safaris

OK, so the line from the movie 300 might be a little cheesy or perhaps even lost on some of you, but the parallels are rather relevant at the moment. For many years, one pride of lions has been ruling the roost at South Africa’s Sabi Sabi Private Game Reserve. But change may be in the air…

In recent years, the dynamics of the lion population at Sabi Sabi have been crying out for change. The epic nature of the Southern Pride’s reign has limited the movements of the other prides in the area and they have, in fact, recently been responsible for reducing the neighbouring Charleston Pride to just a lone female and her two sub-adult cubs. In keeping with the title of this post, the members of the Southern Pride are the equivalent of the Persians, conquering all before them under the guidance of their king, Xerxes. Xerxes’ confidence and success in battle was due mainly to the fearsome nature of his loyal 150,000-strong army. In the microcosm that is Sabi Sabi, this Kruger National Park male has been able to expand and, more importantly, hold his territory thanks to the unstoppable force of his mighty pride. A pride of 18 lions is a fearsome unit; they have thus far ruled the southern Sabi Sand Private Game Reserve, of which Sabi Sabi is a part, with unwavering ferocity.

The lone Kruger male, leader of the Southern Pride, has been ranging the Sabi Sabi area for some years. Now his reign may be challenged by two newcomers, the Spartans.
The Kruger male of the Southern Pride holds his ground against the invading Sparta lions from the east.

However, in recent weeks two new players have arrived in the area. The Sparta males from further east have been launching forays deeper and deeper into the Southern Pride’s territory. An interesting coalition of two unrelated males – one a magnificent male in his prime and the other a young warrior fast maturing into a supreme specimen – the Sparta males seem to mean business. The growing strength and confidence of the younger male has no doubt sparked this latest activity. He seems to be exerting dominance over his elder partner and his desire for a territory of his own is obvious. When the pair is on the move, it is always the younger that takes the lead, and his exuberance and fearlessness seem to be driving the duo to confrontation.

For the lone Kruger male, this invasion could spell disaster for his reign as experience can only account for so much. After a while, the math becomes self-explanatory: in a two-against-one confrontation, the mighty KNP male may well meet his match. But he has not been king for nearly two years without his share of cunning. Since the arrival of the Spartans, the lone male has not left the pride, safe in the knowledge that even with two males hunting him down, the protection of Mandleve and the other six females is invaluable.

Older-Spartan Spartan-Snarl Sparta-Male



The Spartan Pride leader. The older member of a coalition of just two males, his position is also under threat from his younger companion. But conquering the leader of the Southern Pride will allow the duo access to a number of breeding females, a vital requirement for their survival.

The Spartans must rely on a divide-and-conquer strategy to survive. If they can separate the lone male from his battalions, they stand a good chance of taking over the prime territory of the Southern Pride and the rich breeding opportunity the females present. During the past weeks, the Spartans have ventured deep into the pride’s home and have been heard roaring and scent marking – an unmistakable challenge to the current king. The bold nature of the takeover bid matches the self-confidence shown by the Spartan King Leonidas’s small but elite fighting force when it held the Persian hordes at bay. If and when the two armies meet, the spectacle promises to be far more explosive than Hollywood could ever convey. The Spartans must rely on cunning to succeed, and timing is key. However, the Southern Pride has master tacticians among its ranks and has continued to avoid the advancing party, causing trepidation. The sound of the Kruger male’s battle cry in tandem with seven adult females and six more-than-competent sub-adults has caused the Spartans to retreat for now. They are still inside the territorial boundary but seem to be buying time to work out their strategy. No victory will be forthcoming against greater numbers with rash decisions.

The younger male in the Sparta coalition.

What promises to play out soon within Sabi Sabi is an all-out war. Should the Spartans succeed in usurping the Kruger male, they will bring about a fascinating twist in lion dynamics. The four Southern Pride sub-adult males will be chased away for certain and the fate of the four cubs, losing the protection of their father, will be a foregone conclusion. Or will it?

The Southern Pride has proved time and time again that its females are a formidable force on their own. The sub-adults are not related to the Kruger male. When he and his now-deceased brother took control of the area some two years ago, they tried to eradicate the genetics of its former rulers. Their efforts were in vain; the cunning and strength of the females forced them to adopt the six cubs and raise them as their own. This highly unusual behaviour in the harsh world of lion population dynamics proves beyond all doubt that these females are not to be underestimated. Perhaps the same thing will happen this time around? After all, the Spartan army managed to continue to defy the odds despite the loss of King Leonidas at the hands of the Persians. Perhaps the pride will split? Could the Kruger male form a coalition with the four sub-adult males? The possibilities in the infinite choices of nature are fascinating and we wait with bated breath for the outcome of the battle that is sure to rage soon.

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Ben Coley

‘Living the dream’ is a much over-utilised cliché, but finding myself immersed in the African bush after being born and raised in England, it's a phrase that eloquently sums up the life-changing events I have experienced. I always had an affinity for African wildlife and, as a child, spent countless hours reading literature, watching documentaries and daydreaming about living in this magical terrain. When the chance came along unexpectedly, I jumped at it and within a couple of months found myself deep in the bush, studying to be a field guide. I have never looked back. I have been in the industry for more than six years and currently ply my trade at Sabi Sabi Private Game Reserve alongside my wife and soul mate who is also a guide here. The photographic opportunities are endless and, as a keen amateur photographer and writer, I am in my element. I am incredibly proud of my achievements and currently hold FGASA 3, trails guide and SKS birding qualifications, but I still wake up each morning with a sense of excitement about what the bush holds for me to learn. No two days or sightings are ever the same and it is this emotional rollercoaster that drives me to pursue and share my passion on a daily basis.