Pride and perseverance

Sabi Sand · May 2019
By Chene Wales-Baillie
Field Guide

In the bush, as a guide, you never know what to expect to see when you wake up in the morning and start your day. My typical alarm went off at 4.20 am, however the alarm was not the only sound that I could hear. What I heard was the sounds of a progressive increase of excited hyenas that were harassing a predator of some sort. I got up and got ready for the day and became more and more excited for what was out there. I knew it was going to be an incredible morning if we could find out what all the commotion was about.

Ruel and I met our guests at Singita Boulders and told them all about the interesting sounds we were hearing throughout the early hours of the morning, as well as on the way to the lodge, and so with a buzz of eagerness and fascination we quickly got our things together and headed out, following the loudness of the even more intense cackles and growls.

We arrived at the Singita private landing strip to find all ten members of the Styx Pride of lions and thirteen hyenas squabbling over the last remains of a male wildebeest kill which must have been made during the night. None of us spoke as we listened to the unreal noises coming from both enemies whilst the hyenas stole the final pieces of the carcass. As the pride began to walk away along the airstrip, roaring over the sniggering echoes between hyenas I felt a great sense of pride for this family of lions. Not only did we just witness an incredible show of audio, but I watched as a pride, who for many years have fought their way and overcome many difficulties, displayed the strength and determination that has brought them to this point in their lives.

The Styx Pride are one of the longest standing prides of lions within the Sabi Sand Game Reserve. There are decades of stories to tell with this pride but the first time I was able to witness them was in 2012 in the northern Sabi Sand. The lion dynamics have changed drastically over the years and from the time I began guiding I have watched this pride go through some serious ups and downs. One of the most dramatic changes to the pride started during the drought in 2015, where the lionesses contracted a serious case of mange. During this time they had eight cubs who all died from the mange infestation. As hard as this was to watch with our human emotions, it is ultimately nature’s way of ensuring only the strongest animals survive.

The three females then went on to have new cubs (see photos) who are the young sub adults we see in the pride today. There were originally ten but unfortunately one was killed by the Tsalala Pride and the other disappeared after it was seen with paralysed back legs. The eight remaining however also contracted mange after a few months but have proven to come out stronger and have been able to live a healthy life up to this day. In fact they seem to look better every time we see them!

In the past year the oldest of the adult females passed away leaving only two adult females and the eight youngsters to roam as nomads escaping the pressures of new male lions making their way into the reserve. It is truly astounding to watch as this pride progresses and continues to survive with only two adult females leading them out of harm’s way. Since the beginning of their story as a pride, this is the first time they have ventured into our area. It is an area which has enough space and resources to fulfil their needs and remain safe from other lions.

Waking up to the unknown and being able to follow the lives and stories of these magnificent animals in the hope that they can withstand all the natural difficulties set in front of them is what I find extremely fascinating and exhilarating. Personally I hope the Styx Pride will remain on Singita and continue to preserve their legacy as a pride for many years to come, allowing us to observe many more of these incredible displays of power, courage and unity.

By Chene Wales-Baillie
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