Marataba’s ever-changing lion dynamics

We have known the Scotia males, a pair of lions who are seemingly brothers, since early March 2021. They were first only spotted from time to time – mostly at night, and from their tracks left behind the following morning – and were initially very wary, and even skittish, of our vehicles. They were named informally after Scotia Camp – our College’s base camp – which was their favourite area due to the close proximity of the Muteki Dam.

Another single male was then found in the area. He was much more tolerant of our presence, but sightings of him as a solitary cat were ‘hit and miss’ until early July. It was then that all three were found together for the first time, amicably social yet remaining a little separate – the two kin and the loner several metres apart.

During the month of June 2021, sightings of the two brothers had become more reliable – around twice a week – with good early morning activity (even though they did move too fast to track on foot). Track form was the usual evidence, but at least one brother had learned to accept human presence. By the end of the month, sightings of the cats were almost daily.

Around the time that ‘the 3rd musketeer’ joined them, their behaviour changed rapidly and radically. They began scent marking, and roaring became their norm. At times they would get bamboozled by one of the dominant males in the area, but they survived and thrived in the road-devoid eastern section of the reserve.

The reserve, however, remained under the dictatorship of two much older, stronger, darker-maned (and wilder) males, who often stayed separate from another due to their size and dominance.

It was around this time, when the Scotia males had settled into a rhythm, that we came upon a very young and pretty relaxed pride of 8 lions close to Marataba Mountain Lodge, including adult females, young females and young males. They literally appeared out of thin air, never having been encountered in our area before.

In November 2021 a massive shift occurred when the Scotia males and the lone male were found much further west, firmly in the territory of the older and more dominant males. A takeover had taken place – unseen, but probably with some violence as the young males sported a few facial scratches. The older males had been ousted by the trio, who used their advantage in both numbers and the element of surprise over the power of the older boys.

Since then the Scotia males have been hot on the heels of the Mountain Pride. This has led to a series of close calls, and perhaps a skirmish or two.

On the 12th January the young pride of lions was found close to the main entrance road – about 3 minutes’ drive from the gate into the reserve. The males were seen in very close proximity, within a kilometre further down the same road heading in the direction of Marataba Safari Lodge. The males were initially observed moving in a westerly direction, and were seen the following morning lying in the exact spot the younger pride had been lying.

Thus the game of ‘cat and mouse’ continues, and we are excited to see how the lion dynamics play out in the weeks and months to come.

Watch this space!

Words by Mike Meidlinger
Image by Francois Fourie

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