Conservation is a rewarding yet challenging pursuit: many of the animals faced with extinction are in this situation not just because their habitat is shrinking, but because they have evolved in a past time without anthropogenic (human) pressures, and have never had to compete with people for space.
They have biological habits which have evolved in response to conditions as they were thousands of years ago, and it is these very habits that may prove to be a serious hurdle for these animals to overcome on their path to survival.
Lions are struggling in a shrinking world, with dwindling food resources, and conflicts arising between them and local people. Besides these issues, their basic population dynamics don’t help them much either.
Male Lions often group in ‘coalitions’ of related individuals, and take over large tracts of land (or territories). Coalitions with larger territories often dominate multiple prides of lionesses. The prides compete between themselves for territory too, and the male lions move between the prides spending time with them, hunting with them and mating with the lionesses.
Prides consist of adult lionesses, sub-adult males and females, and cubs. A sub-adult lion means any lion under the age of about 4, and in the case of females, it means a lioness which is not yet sexually mature and therefore unable to bear cubs.
When male lions take a pride over, they kill the cubs and chase away any sub-adult lions.
Because killing the cubs will mean the lionesses can mate again very soon (and the cubs are offspring of previous males). The sub-adult lionesses cannot bear cubs yet, and so they simply present more competition for food – which the males can do without. As a result, prides of lions can lose many members during a male lion take over.
Once the take-over has been completed, and all lionesses are pregnant or have new cubs, the male lions will leave to search for new prides and new mating opportunities. They occasionally circle back to check on their territory and pride, but in reality they are driven by the desire to procreate and further their genetic line, if there are no lionesses to mate with, the males will shift their territory leaving the pride and cubs exposed.
The Sand River Pride: a case in point
One such pride which has certainly struggled over the past while are the Sand River Pride. They have been a resident group of lions and &Beyond Kirkman’s Kamp concession for a number of years, and during that time, they have gone through may pride takeovers.