Exploring the Dynamics of the Duba Plains Pride

by Sandy Salle on January 12, 2012

Post image for Exploring the Dynamics of the Duba Plains Pride

When I was at Duba Plains this past November, I was concerned that the residential lion pride seemed to be breaking apart. My guide, 007, had said that one of the females had broken away with her sub adult cubs and that they were always about 1 km apart from the rest of the pride. I was curious to learn more about the Duba lions and wanted to find out if this female and her sub adult cubs would ever get back together with the pride. The whole dynamics of these prides fascinates me!

With this burning curiosity, I approached my good friends at Great Plains Conservation, Dereck and Beverly Joubert and Caitlin Carter, who were kind enough to share with me their recent observations and experiences with the Duba lion prides.

Reading their observations is a real treat for me and I know it will be for you, as well! For me, the most interesting thing about these lions is that they each have their owner personalities. In today’s blog post, written by Dereck Joubert, Dereck paints a wonderful picture of the Duba lions and how they interact from day to day.

See Derek’s insight below:

We’ve just spent a month in Duba trying to catch up on the lion dynamics and we’re starting to see an interesting trend.

First of all, there were lions everywhere! Looking back at my records it seems that the pride (Tsaro) does something consistently each year, they break up into sub groups in advance of the buffalo calving season. At the moment we have three distinct sub prides: the older females, with four sub adult cubs, one particularly interesting and very robust little female with a round curious face. She broke her wrist (or front ankle) as a cub and now throws the paw while walking, other than that she seems fine. She’s a character all right and just the sort of personality we might have done a film on. She’s not used to seeing our filming vehicle so immediately came over to investigate and even then when I drove off later, got up again to smell the spare wheel. We’ve got two older females one with a lump on her neck that could be a tumor but I’m reluctant to say that because I’ve seen these things heal up in younger lionesses.

Like the Lord of the Rings, this group lives in the Lower World or seems to move mostly in the area south of Sausage Point.

When we started this stint two females and two sub adults (the female we called Iris, because she has a black fleck coming out of the iris in her eye) had just killed a baby elephant. They live in Middle Duba and are the bigger lions in the Tsaro pride. North of there we came across Silver Eye and two females and two sub adults, ironically the grown up Ma di Tau male cub is one of them from what we can see. Silver Eye is amazing. Her eye is worse, but she still hunts well, often leading the chase. She isn’t however getting on well with the females (her sisters) of the other sub groups. And then there is Ma di Tau, and surprisingly she has three new cubs of about 6-months old.

One day we saw all 21 lions (including the male.) At first we were with Silver Eye’s sub group. As it was getting interesting, they ran into the Middle Duba group, the big lionesses came in aggressively (quite possibly because it was a rainy day so no easy scent clues), and Silver Eye came in from the north where the Skimmer Pride usually comes from if they venture onto the island. Silver Eye saw them as being aggressors and she and her small band bolted. The big lionesses chased, and what seems to have happened is one of those things where it was wrong for all the wrong reasons but one way or another the sisters fought and Silver Eye’s group left the island in panic.

Not an hour later we followed the Middle Duba group and they ran into the Lower World lionesses and sub adults stalking the same buffalo herd. They eyed one another for some time (while the buffalo made their escape) and then laid down 1 km apart—very much aware of each other but not greeting. Maybe it had been a hard day already. As we waited, Ma di Tau came out with her cubs, looked around, saw the others, and went in after the buffalo. It was a long way away and only one sub pride saw her, but she seems to be accepted in both sub prides (we didn’t see her interact with Silver Eye’s group but I think she does…she seems to move around the island with some kind of royal immunity).

african safariImage above credited to Alex Walters/Great Plains Conservation


Image above credited to Alex Walters/Great Plains Conservation

 

trip to South AfricaImage above credited to Alex Walters/Great Plains Conservation

 

North of the camp we met up with some Skimmer Pride females (also with cubs) and each night we heard lions roaring to the far south, deep into the interior where we can’t go by vehicle. I suspect these are grown males from the Skimmer Pride in late nomadic phase looking for some territory. The male from the island roars like mad when he is on the island but I noticed that when he crosses the bridge (oh, the bridge has become the crossing place of preference for all lions!) he roars a few times but then stays fairly quiet as he gets close to his boundary on that side.

All of this as I said is fairly consistent with the season. The Duba lions, on average, hunt smaller buffalo between November and February when they are born. Smaller prey means less to go around and so the pride breaks up until they need to start hunting together for larger buffalo. At the same time though there is quite a lot of tension around because of the cubs. We know that we have at least three cub killers now, largely of the older female set. Females have had to stay isolated or with trusted friends or sisters as they bring up cubs, OR they’ve managed to bring up cubs because they hit this sweet spot of seasonal break up in response to the seasonal shifts in the style of buffalo hunting.

Another observation is that, as I’ve written before, prides, like lions themselves, are prone to be born, then bloom and die out. A few years ago I started seeing the first signs of that blooming effect that would lead to Tsaro Pride dying out (and it is usually due to no cubs being brought into the pride by older female mothers) but today, with 11 cubs of different ages, surviving the first critical few months and even into their second years, I can see potential for recruits (like the chubby female cub) being brought into the pride (rather than being expelled as nomads) and breathing life into Tsaro again as the larger hunts begin and the pride needs to work together as a team again. Another scenario ahead might be that because of all the cubs, now doing so well, that two or maybe three distinct prides will form. Silver Eye has a few years left in her and her little group may disappear, but the rest have the makings of good hunting prides on their own. There you have it—it’s a soap opera, isn’t it?

—Derek

Below are some of the pictures I (Sandy) took on my November trip to Duba Plains:

trip to south africa

south africa safari tours

trip to Africa

african safari vacation

What did you think of this post? We’d love to hear your thoughts in our comments section. And feel free to share it with your followers on Twitter!

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Terry January 13, 2012 at 9:59 pm

Loved the commentary and the pictures. Thank you so much!

Marlene & John Feneley January 23, 2012 at 6:32 pm

We have been regular visitors to Duba over the last 10 years and have compiled a significant history of the Tsaro pride during that time. We were last there in May 2011 and will be returning again. Our normal stay is 5 days and our guide is Reuben. Reuben has been great in providing us with wonderful sightings of the Tsaro pride. We can do this as we take a private vewhicle.
What is being said in the commentary above we can readily recognize.
Of course, we have an extensive library of videos and still images of Duba with its Tsaro pride.

concetta serretta January 30, 2012 at 5:37 am

Very interesting reading – Derek and Beverleys insight amazing! Your pics lovely and research very worth every minute you took!

Sandy Salle February 13, 2012 at 12:46 pm

Thank you Concetta, it sure was an amazing experience that I will never forget. Love Duba Plains!

tw April 10, 2012 at 5:26 pm

everbody loves ma di tau!

Mahul July 10, 2012 at 7:00 am

I’ve been twice, both times in June, and had brilliant sightings. However the last time I was at Duba was in 2009. Since then I have read a lot about irregular sightings. Would June still be a good time to go?

Sandy Salle July 12, 2012 at 8:06 am

Hi Mahul,

Yes, peak season for wildlife viewing at Duba Plains is usually between June and August. This is when you are more likely to see a higher concentration of wildlife, so I would recommend visiting during those months! It truly is such a wonderful place to visit–we just had a client there!

Karen Anderson May 3, 2013 at 4:42 am

Thank you for posting this information, Sandy.

I watched “The Last of the Lions” today, and I must say the scene where Ma Di Tau leaves behind her paralyzed female cub is the saddest thing I ever saw in in cinema, and I’m old. I am inured to most of the cruelty of this world, but that definitely got me! I watched twice after vowing not to, and I am still sniffling and wiping tears.

It so comforting that the underdog male cub and Ma Di Tau herself have done better after all the hard times we saw them go through in probably the most moving film I have ever seen.

Thank you!

Sandy Salle May 7, 2013 at 11:08 am

Awww, I know! It’s such a powerful movie. It’s even more powerful to witness them in the African bush and witness their struggles. Absolutely beautiful movie.

Sandy

Tammy September 19, 2014 at 1:57 am

I will make sure to visit just to see Ma da tau. Ma da tau has became become a part of our family. I always check in to make sure I did not miss my opportunity. I have been watching nature shows since I was a child, I didn’t see anything more than animals. I was one of those people that didn’t think animals had the ability to feel emotional. Other than elephant, Ma da tau is the first lioness to open my eyes. I felt it and I understood. Great documentary.

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: