A Shared Heritage and Destiny: The Ridge and Marsh Prides
March 4th, 2013
We have been watching the happenings in the Marsh Pride since 1977 courtesy of our own observations and a lot of help from our friends in the guiding community at the various camps and lodges in the northern Mara. Despite annual loses due to conflict with Masai livestock owners the Marsh Pride has managed to remain pretty constant in the way it operates and the extent of its territory that historically extends beyond the Reserve boundary to the north and east. The Mara River forms the western boundary of the pride – though this does not stop pride members from crossing at times – sometimes due to food considerations with pride members trespassing into the Kichwa Tembo (KT) Pride territory to hunt (this does not happen so often) or when pride males from the Marsh Pride are exiled at the time of a takeover by new males – or because they simply want to try and expand their realm of influence and mate with more females. This happens more often in the dry season when the Mara River is at its lowest – and due to more frequent dryer spells this option is there for those who want to risk conflict with the resident lions – or absence of them – in the KT area.
The Marsh traditionally is thought of as the dry season hot spot for the Marsh Pride – somewhere they know will deliver plenty of food when the wildebeest and zebras in residence from June/July to Oct.Nov. While the Bila Shaka Lugga (formerly known as the Miti Mbili (two trees of 1977 – long since fallen) is traditionally the birth place of the Pride – an increasingly dwindling source of cover for lionesses to hide their newborn cubs for the first 8 weeks among the croton thickets and acacia bushes in the drainage line or intermittent watercourse. The Pride tends to avoid the marshy waterlogged areas in the rainy season – particularly the Long Rains of end of March to end of May/June. And this is when they often move out of the Reserve into Masailand and risk the wrath of the herdsmen by taking livestock when times are tough – or when cattle wander unattended in to the Reserve.
The Marsh Pride usually averages around 4 to 6 lionesses and 2 males. There are times when the Pride is doing well and raising lots of cubs that a surplus of females builds up – young adult females who cannot be recruited in to their natal Pride due to there not being sufficient space for more adults and their cubs – when there is not sufficient safe places for more lionesses to breed or to find food year round to feed the Pride. That is when these groups of young 2-3 year old females leave as their own cohort to try and establish themselves in a new territory – or more often try to eek out a living on the edge of their natal range. This is how the small prides along Rhino Ridge originate – either as outcasts from the Marsh Pride – or from the Paradise Pride or sometimes further afield. The lionesses on Rhino Ridge and along Gray’s Lugga to the east are one such group. And if they are successful groups such as these are mated by their own Pride Males – or by Pride Males from adjacent prides. And successful prides push the limits of their territory and try to squeeze their neighbors so as to expand their territory. And one possible reason for successful Prides to do this is to allow for dispersal of their females offspring – better that your neighbours are former ‘friends/relatives’ kind of theory so as to lessen the degree of hostility. The ownership and defense of lion territories from the females point of view is a life long – long running – battle – and is all about strength in numbers. If there is a scrap you want back up from as many friends as possible.
Right now the Marsh Pride are doing well – 11 cubs at last count (We will be at Governors end of this month) with Bibi both the oldest and newest mother. But when I was there in early Feb one of the group of younger females on the periphery of the Marsh looked very pregnant so she may soon have cubs – or maybe has them hidden away by now. Having 4 adult males with the Marsh Pride for any length of time is unusual. It happens at times that bands of nomads – sometimes up to 9 of them we have recorded in the past – come through the area, hang around for a while and then usually a coalition of adult 2 or 3 males of 4-5 years old takes over from the resident Pride males who have become weakened by age or loses – as happened with Notch and then Clawed and Romeo. But for a pride of 4 -6 lionesses such as the Marsh Pride having 4 males just simply does not usually last – they would normally quite soon split in to 2 and 2 once they had established themselves in an area and mated with females. The Marsh and Bila Shaka are seasonal in their food supply – so it has never been a pride of 30-40 lions such as you used to get in the Talek area and perhaps still do around Keekorok – areas with a greater density of year round resident prey and which may have up to a dozen lionesses – sometimes more – and who specialise in killing buffalo.
The fact that our 4 Musketeers – the 4 Marsh Pride males – mated with both the Marsh Pride and the Pride’s younger female relatives who formed the Ridge Pride and Gray’s Lugga Pride (same thing?? for a while at least) – but then regrouped most recently with the Marsh Pride as their primary focus left the Ridge Pride dangerously exposed at times to new males coming through and attacking their cubs – cubs sired by the 4 Muskateers. That is what happened in early February when I was in the Mara and witnessed the Ridge Pride females kill a cow buffalo – and then as they feasted found themselves bushwacked – attacked – by three young nomadic males intent on stealing the Ridge Pride females kill – and attacking their cubs.
More shortly on that disaster!