November 19

The Male Lions of Silvan Meet Their Match: Silvan Safari Blog

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November 19, 2021

Over the last few months, there has been an enormous shift in the male lion dynamics of the Sabi Sand. While most of the action has happened a little further to the south, we’re starting to see the effects on the male lions of Silvan more and more.

Setting The Scene

Mohawk - Northern Avoca male lion of Silvan
A fully grown male lion is an impressive sight. Pictured is Mohawk of the Northern Avocas. Image Credit: Nigel Ridge

Male lions are fiercely territorial and battle for prime real estate. Once they reach maturity around the age of three years, young males are forced to leave the pride by the dominant male/males. These young males roam across territories either alone or in coalitions, usually made up of brothers. They spend their early adulthood avoiding dominant males and honing their combat skills when conflict arises.

At around six years old, these males will begin to establish territories of their own and to claim a pride of lionesses with which to mate. It’s at this stage when we see most conflicts and the true battles for dominance begin.

The balance of power often shifts between the experience of the older dominant males and the youthful, brazen attitude of the young usurpers.
Numerical advantage often plays a key role in the way the dynamic unfolds. As you may expect, a shift in territories or dominance has a rather dramatic knock-on effect on those surrounding it. And it is with this in mind that we set the scene…

The Male Lions of Silvan

Northern Avoca male lions of Silvan.
Blondie (front) and Mohawk, known as the Northern Avoca males, are the most commonly seen male lions at Silvan. Image Credit: Nigel Ridge

The dominant Silvan male lions are known as the Northern Avoca males. Among the more experienced and sizeable lions in the Sabi Sand, they are an imposing trio. They are estimated at eight years old and are originally from the Timbavati/Thornybush area. However, they’ve now made the Silvan region home.

Over time, we have seen them moving further south as they look to expand their territory. At Silvan, we most frequently see two of the three brothers, Blondie and Mohawk, rarely seen apart. These two males are closely associated with the Nkuhuma pride, with whom they have fathered several cubs.

Dark Mane - Northen Avoca - male lions of Silvan
The third of the Northern Avoca brothers, Dark Mane, has remained further north with the Talamati pride. Image Credit: Nigel Ridge

The third male, known as Dark Mane, is more of a loner who spends more of his time with the Talamati pride a little further north towards Manyeleti. However, under increasing pressure from his northern rival, the Mbali male, he made more regular appearances at Silvan.

Having split from his brothers some time ago, Dark Mane hasn’t received the most welcoming of receptions from his brothers when attempting to rejoin them periodically. However, as things begin to develop, joining forces once more may become more necessary than ever.

Where The Story Begins

Birmingham Male Lion at Londolozi
Impressive and imposing, the Birmingham male lions are the established dominant coalition in the central Sabi Sand. Image Credit: James Tyrell via Londolozi

The true origin of the story seems to have begun with the demise of a dominant male in Londolozi. In late April, the Othawa male is believed to have charged blindly into a neighbouring male coalitions territory. His unassuming hosts, the Birmingham males, did not take kindly to his intrusion and dealt with him in the harshest terms.

The subsequent “power vacuum” caused the now most dominant coalition in the area to occupy a region further west to where they had previously held. As a result, a large section of their territory in central Londolozi lay unoccupied.

Coalitions Making Claims

The predominant movement pattern among young male lion coalitions in the Sabi Sand is gradually making their way south. Usually, they move past Silvan in the north as they push into Mala Mala and Londolozi

This has been the case with most of the dominant coalitions seen in the Sabi Sand. Notable coalitions that have made this same journey include the Birmingham males, our Northern Avocas and the famous Mapogo and Majingilane coalitions of the past. In keeping with this, the Avoca males have been pushing south over the last few months. Attracted by the large section of unoccupied territory, we have heard them calling loudly. A sure sign of them advertising their presence as they aim to lay claim to the area.

Ndhzenga Male Lions at Londolozi
Strength in numbers is especially relevant among male lion coalitions. The four Ndhzenga males surge into Londolozi is testament to this. Image Credit: Sean Zeederberg via Londolozi

It may appear that all is going perfectly to plan for the northern Avocas. The opportunity to claim an unprotected swathe of territory at the heart of the Sabi Sand beckons invitingly. But their southward march has been rudely interrupted.

A coalition of four, the Ndhzenga males, aged around six years old, have also targeted this prime piece of real estate. Bucking the usual trend, these males have moved in from the south, coming from Sabi Sabi and the Kruger. Whilst an impressive set of gents, these males lack their rivals’ experience and are believed to be a little smaller.

However, it does seem that they feel ready to prove themselves as a force in the near future. With two sets of males, loaded with testosterone, moving towards each other, eager to establish themselves, the scene is set for a showdown.

The Male Lions of Silvan Get Into A Scuffle

There has been at least one conflict between the Ndhzengas and the Avocas thus far, from what we can tell. Typically, male lions target the spine when attacking each other, aiming to paralyse their adversary. While he’s not seriously injured, Blondie has been sporting a few scrapes and bite marks on his back.

This and reports from guides further south suggest that the two coalitions had a difference of opinion in the last week. It seems that the Avocas have retreated north and are likely to limit their southern incursions for the time being. Having encountered some fierce resistance, the Ndhzenga males have headed a little further south to a more comfortable distance. Recent reports suggest that two of the brothers sustained minor injuries, while the other two brothers have not been seen since. It is believed that they could have retreated much further south to rejoin the Styx pride which they are dominant over. However, given the nature of male lion conflicts, serious injury or death cannot be ruled out.

Blondie - one of the Northern Avoca male lions of Silvan
Blondie appears to have picked up a few scrapes on his back in a tangle with the Ndhzenga males. Image Credit: Bianca Johnstone

The Impact on the Nkuhuma Pride at Silvan

Nkuhuma pride - lions of Silvan
The shifting dynamics between male lion coalitions will have an impact on Silvan’s resident Nkuhuma pride. Image Credit: Nigel Ridge

The fall-out from this, the first of what we anticipate to be many skirmishes between rival factions, will be felt by all of the Sabi Sand’s lions.

When male lions claim a pride of lionesses, they kill any of the previous males’ young cubs that are present. This not only ensures their rivals bloodline is cut short, but also that the mother lionesses rejoin their mating cycle sooner and sire the new males’ cubs.

As a result of the presence of the Ndhzenga coalition, our local pride, the Nkuhumas, have been spending far more time in the north of the Sabi Sand. This is great news for us at Silvan as we are treated to more regular encounters. However, it does come with a healthy dose of trepidation for their future should the Ndhzenga males venture north again.

What Happens Next?

Blondie- Northern Avoca - male lion of Silvan
It is a fascinating time for male lion dynamics in the Sabi Sand. Pictured is Blondie of the Northern Avocas. Image Credit: Nigel Ridge

There are a few possible scenarios, and much is dependent on the original instigators, the Birmingham males of Londolozi.

Should the Birmingham males return to central Londolozi, they would directly conflict with the Ndhzenga males. The displaced coalition could either be forced further south (Ndhzengas) or west (Birminghams) or possibly even killed. However, any injuries or losses to either could leave them vulnerable to the Avocas, who may venture south once again.

Should this be the case, and Dark Mane reunites with his brothers, they would make an imposing adversary for either of their rivals. The right set of events could leave our Avocas as the most powerful coalition in the region.

The only truly accurate answer is to wait and see…

Meet The Lions of Silvan Safari

It is an exciting time for the male lions of Silvan. The only certainty is that change is in the air, and drama will inevitably follow. Get in touch with our travel experts to get a front-row seat as the show unfolds!

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About the author 

Brad Mitchell

With a deep-set love of the outdoors and making moments count in all aspects of life, nothing makes Brad happier than taking in sunrises and sunsets. He can often be found either running, surfing or playing sports somewhere in Cape Town. Having grown up a stone's throw from Kruger, Brad jumped at the chance to live in the Cape and has never looked back since! With a background in all things Marketing, he is driven by creativity and turning crazy ideas into real-life actions!

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