The first time I saw my favorite lioness, she was walking down a hill in Chobe National Park with her young cubs and her sister. She had a tracking collar on and was leading the group at a slow pace. We watched them for a short time until they disappeared into the bush. The cubs turned to look at the safari vehicle several times, but the two lionesses ignored us. Even though this encounter was only for a few minutes, I had never seen lionesses and cubs in their natural environment before. It was thrilling!
When I saw the lioness again, several years later, she captured my imagination and admiration. We were in a pontoon boat on the Chobe River and saw the lioness, her sister and their cubs on the bank by the water. As we approached, we saw that she was attempting to pull a dead waterbuck onto the shore. Waterbucks utilize bodies of water to escape from predators and our guide assumed the lioness had caught this one as it was trying to escape. As we continued to move a bit closer we got quite a surprise. The lioness was in a tug-of-war for possession of the carcass with a medium size crocodile. The croc was pulling toward the water, while the lioness was pulling toward the shore. We watched this “tooth and claw” struggle for about 30 minutes. The lioness avoided being snared in the crocs jaws while the croc had very little leverage to pull the carcass away from the lioness. The cubs watched the tug-of-war with some interest, but didn’t participate. Neither did the other lioness who seemed relaxed a short distance away from the shoreline. We moved on before the encounter ended, but the lioness clearly had the advantage. Eventually, the lioness’ strength won the prize and we later passed by again when the waterbuck was completely on dry land.
The social life of lions is quite fascinating. Lionesses in a pride are related to one another – on average – as cousins. They share in hunting, care-taking for all of the cubs in the pride, and defending their offspring. Because the mothers are related, the cubs share common genes. Pride ranges are defended by male lions, who are often related on the order of half-brothers. The males form a coalition to defend a range and the female pride or prides within the range. The average size of a coalition is 2 – 3 males. As long as the males can defend their range, they father the pride’s offspring. The females in a pride may split up to hunt. The two lionesses in my pictures were often seen together but associated with a larger pride.
Another story about the two lionesses will be found in my next post.