Summer 2023 | Nic Coleman

Lion dynamics on a zebra kill

Tswalu Kalahari Lions from the northern pride feeding on a zebra kill

In search of the Kalahari’s famous black-maned lions, we left camp before sunrise and headed for Monkey Thorn Pan where the north pride of lions had last been seen the day before.

We tried not to waste too much time getting to the pan, summer temperatures typically reaching 30-35 degrees celsius by 9am, as we were hoping to see some interaction or catch the lions on the move before they settled down to rest during the heat of the day.

En route, we stopped to admire a lioness from the south pride walking on the road. Even though this was a fantastic sighting, with the first rays of the summer sun already hitting our faces, we continued on our way.




When we arrived at the southern junction of the pan, Fez, our tracker, suddenly lifted his hand, signaling for us to stop, as he had seen some tracks. There they were. Tracks overlaid with tracks, identifiable as males, females and even the tracks of the newest litter of lion cubs on the reserve (about three months old), a sure sign that a pride of lions was on the move.

We started following the tracks at a steady pace. Luckily for us, they were on a clear Kalahari sand road for the first 200 metres, but then they turned off onto a game path into the Mellifera thickets, east of Monkey Thorn Pan. We would normally take a short walk into the thickets on foot, to figure out in which direction the tracks were headed, but considering that the pride had nine young cubs in tow, discretion was the better part of valour, and we decided that driving slowly on the tracks was a wiser idea.


The northern pride of lions on the move


The tracks were steadily heading east, often switching between game paths, giving us the impression that the lions were walking with a purpose, maybe even to a kill. Fez was an absolute star and stayed on the tracks without fail for a good while. At one point we lost the tracks, and as we were about to turn around to cast in a different direction, we spotted one of the lionesses coming out from behind a thicket right behind us.  Then another lioness, and another, as well as all nine of the cubs running around, playing and eating – a total of 13 lions. We had found the north pride.

A male lion was feeding on a freshly killed zebra, with the cubs enjoying the feast beside him. The lionesses, spent from hunting, kept a watchful eye on their youngsters. The male was being surprisingly tolerant, allowing the cubs to cling to the carcass while he was still feeding. It seemed likely that he was under the impression that he had fathered  all of them.


Lions from the northern pride feeding on a zebra kill


Fez suddenly pointed behind the vehicle. In the shade of a camel thorn lay a second male lion, the less dominant of the two on the scene. The two are part of a current coalition of three males on the reserve. Coalitions are formed to create a stronger and more dominant unit, allowing the males to hold bigger territories and sire cubs with more lion prides within their territory.

The second male attempted to move closer, hoping for a share of the zebra kill his brother was feeding on. With a very aggressive growl, show of teeth and an attempt to pick up the carcass and drag it away, the feeding male reversed into a thorny Mellifera thicket! The second male retreated into the shade directly behind our vehicle, blocking us in.

We thought things were going to calm down, that everyone would settle in and feed, but we were wrong! While watching the male lion interaction, two of the lionesses went for a drink at the pan, taking most of the cubs with them.


Male lion from the north pride


Suddenly, the radio on our vehicle came to life. ‘’There is a third male heading in your direction’’, came the message, the growling and vocalisation of the other male lions having alerted the approaching lion to the kill site. We repositioned our vehicle to give the lions more space and a clear view of what was coming, especially with young cubs in the mix. The third male approached slowly, the other two males seemingly unaware of his presence.

All of a sudden, the third male bolted straight towards the carcass and the feeding lion, spurring the second male to do the same. The cubs and lionesses scattered in all directions, as the three males fought over the carcass, pulling and grabbing at the zebra while growling aggressively at each other.

This continued for a few minutes, until they settled down and started to eat, one by one. It was as if they’d come to an understanding, and peace was restored. Lionesses and their cubs crept closer to try get in on the feeding action, but the males continued to dominate the scene.


Lions feeding on a zebra kill


It was mid-morning and the temperature had started to soar, so we decided to leave the sighting, find some shade and enjoy some light refreshments before making our way back to the Motse for breakfast. It was the perfect end to what was an incredible morning out in the Kalahari.

All images by Barry Peiser.