Lions are the largest of the social carnivores and live in groups known as prides. A pride consists of between 2 and 30 related females and cubs residing in a territory. The males have territories of their own, and on average there will be three prides of females within their territory. Dominant males patrol the borders of their territory, scent marking and roaring to advertise their presence. Contrary to popular belief, they hunt for themselves though are certainly not averse to monopolizing kills made by the prides in their area, should they encounter them.
The mane of the lion probably serves to increase its apparent size. Dominant males are by definition found in coalitions; a single male cannot defend a territory against two or more other males. These coalitions are invariably litter-mates who have grown up together.
There are presently four prides and three male coalitions that we view on a regular basis on MalaMala as well as other prides, coalitions and nomadic young males that come onto our property from time to time. Prides: Eyrefield, Fourways, Styx, Marthly. Coalitions: Matshapiri males, Clarendon males, Gowrie males.
The commonly accepted perception of a pride consisting of a number of females and a single male is therefore not accurate, yet this situation can pertain in the case of a male who has lost the other member or members of his coalition. It would appear that in this circumstance he will join a pride for the protection in numbers that it affords. This has recently occurred with the Sand River pride and the Toulon male.
Male lions are in their prime from 5 to 8 years of age. Successful males can live for as long as 14 years, although rarely do. Unsuccessful ones might not even make 7.
Females whose cubs have been killed by newly territorial males, come into oestrus again quickly. Females in a pride often synchronise their oestrus, so the litters of between 1 and 5 cubs are born at much the same time. The cubs are then reared communally and suckled indiscriminately by any female. The cubs weigh only 1 – 2 kg at birth and are as helpless as kittens, opening their eyes after 3 – 11 days. After 4 – 8 weeks the mother may lead the cubs to nearby kills, although they are only weaned at 7 – 10 months. Cub mortality is high, especially if hunting is scarce.
Hunting is conducted almost entirely at night when their mostly monochromatic vision, which distinguishes between light and dark, gives them an advantage over their prey’s colour vision. Nights when it is full moon are not conducive to successful hunting. Hunting is a group effort, whether there is any communication and tactics involved or mere instinct is debatable. Extensive observations at MalaMala show that when prey is detected, one lion will immediately lie down, while the other or others circle around. In this manner, when a lion eventually makes its move, there is a likelihood of the prey running into one of the others. Lions are however possessed of a degree of intelligence and capable of learning from circumstances, so the possibility of deliberate co-operative hunting techniques arising in particular individuals cannot be discounted.
An extensive study by Butch Smuts in the adjoining Kruger National Park has given us accurate weights; he found that female lions average 125kg, and males 180kg. The largest male lion that he recorded weighed in at 240kg.
2013: Lions were viewed on 308 days in 2013. The most lions seen in a single day were 30 in 4 different sightings (4 November 2013). There are 9 resident prides regularly seen on MalaMala.
2012: On average 53 sightings (most of which were prides) were recorded each month. On one day of the year, 28 different lions were viewed. 6 territorial lion prides were regularly viewed on MalaMala in 2012.
2011: There were only 11 days during 2011 when lion were not viewed at MalaMala Game Reserve. The most lions seen in a single day were 30 in 6 different sightings (30 December). On average 15 different sightings were recorded weekly.
2010: Lions were viewed on all but 22 days in 2010. An average of 29.98 sightings were recorded weekly.
2009: On average, 77 different sightings (most of which were prides) were recorded each month. On 2 occasions in the year 39 different lions were sighted in a day.
2008: On average, 92 different sightings (most of which were prides) were recorded each month. On 9 occasions in the year 45 different lions were sighted in a day.
2007: On average, 17 different sightings were recorded weekly. The most lions seen in a single day were 32 in 6 different sightings (24 October 2007).
2006: Lion were seen on all but 14 days. On two occasions 25 different lions were sighted in a day.
2005: Lion were seen on all but 15 days. The most lion seen in a single day were 38 in 5 different sightings.
2004: Lion were seen on all but 16 days. The most lion seen on a single day were 34 in 7 different sightings.
2003: Lion were sighted on all but 18 days. The most lion sightings in a single day numbered 6 sightings comprising 37 cats.
2002: Lion were sighted on all but 18 days. The most lion sightings in a single day numbered 5 sightings of 35 cats.
2001: Lion were sighted on all but 19 days. There was an average of 2.67 lions sightings daily numbering 10 cats. Days when lion were not viewed averaged only 1.5 a month.
2000: Lion were seen on all but 13 days.
1999: There were 5 days when Lions were not viewed at MalaMala Game Reserve.