Masai Mara – nomads

There comes a time in a young male lion’s life when he get kicked out of the pride. He becomes a nomad. This happens to virtually all young male lions. These nomads are part of the group of 25% of lion cubs which survive their first two years of life. According to documentary wildlife filmaker and conservationist, Dereck Joubert, only about one in eight male lions make it to adulthood.

“A quest of any kind is an heroic journey. It is a rite of passage that carries you to an inner place of silence and majesty and encourages you to live life more courageously and genuinely.” ~ Denise Linn

At about two to three years of age, young lions are no longer tolerated by their pride. Their mothers are ready for their next litter of cubs and their fathers begin to see them as a threat to the stability of the pride. If there is a pride take-over, juvenile males are likely to be forced out of the pride at an even younger age just to stay alive. This sometimes also applies to females, particlarly if the pride is getting too large. Nature has its very own methods of keeping the gene pool diversified and healthy.

“The very essence of instinct is that it’s followed independently of reason.” ~ Charles Darwin

There are very few instances where fathers form coalitions with their sons to dominate a territory. A notable exception was Notch and his five son coalition controlling the Marsh pride up in the northern part of the Mara triangle in the Masai Mara National Reserve.

Usually, after being evicted from the pride, young male lions either roam alone and land up scavenging until they learn to hunt, or, disparate young males come together to form coalitions. Sometimes they are brothers and cousins, other times they are young males who decide to cooperate because it is easier to hunt and defend themselves as a team than on their own. The eviction process is harsh and initially the young males do not seem to understand why they have been banned from their family group. It is an ancient, if unceremonious, rite of passage.

Nomads are very wary. They know they are trespassing. Perhaps it is their father’s turf or another unknown male’s territory. Either way, if they are found, there will be big trouble and life lessons will be taught swiftly and violently.

Frequently, as the nomad walks through another male’s territory he will stop and just look and listen, scanning his surroundings for any sign that the owner of this piece of hunting ground is awake and onto him.

Male lions mark their territory. The odour must be distinctive. These two young nomads were deciphering the chemical messages by drawing the odours through the Jacobson organ in the roof of their mouth which give them the “grimaced” look. These chemical messages appear to give the recipient a clear sense of the size, strength and age of the messager’s owner.

“In the long history of humankind (and animal kind, too) those who learned to collaborate and improvise most effectively have prevailed.” ~ Charles Darwin

These nomads might be physically big and strong but they have still to build that inter strength which comes from self belief. Consequently, they are frequently reassuring each other by head rubbing.

Even as nomads, at times the cub in them is revealed. Some brief respite from the realisation that life is rushing in.

“Self respect, self love and self worth, all start with self. Stop looking outside yourself for your value.” ~ Rob Liano

There are moments in the bush when we as human’s can identify with what that young male lion is going through. No words are necessary.

“Life is ten percent what you experience and ninety percent how you respond to it.” ~ Dorothy M. Neddermeyer

Each lion has a different character. Some are brawlers, some are lovers, some are confident and others not so much. It is apparent that confidence in a male lion is acquired. In his nomad years he learns the value of cooperation, he also learns independence by learning how to hunt and defend himself. It is these strengths, knowledge and skills learnt through testing himself against the world that he matures into a self assured full maned male lion, capable of sustaining his own pride.

This was another coalition of three nomads, around three years old. They were up river from the previous three younger nomads that we found a few days earlier. These three nomads were older, bigger, stronger and had more confidence. They were in Scar and Ziggy’s territory along this stretch of the Mara river. They knew they were trespassing but did not seem to fussed about it.

The dominant male in the coalition of three seemed the most confident and relaxed. The other two were less so, and lay in the croton bushes partially hidden on the edge of steep bank down to the Mara river.

“Doubt kills more dreams than failure ever will.” ~ Suzy Kassem

This confident young male lay on the banks of the Mara river surveying the land as if he owned it. Perhaps starting to get a sense of what it feels like to rule a territory.

“Confidence is when you believe in yourself and your abilities, arrogance is when you think you are better than others and act accordingly.” ~ Stewart Stafford

Nomadic males entering a pride male’s territory inevitably affects cub survival and mating access. Success rates of nomadic males gaining tenure with a pride increases with age and coalition size.

Nomadic males can even regulate populations through their dispersal patterns, territorial structure, and reproductive strategies. Usually, lions live in permanent female groupings (prides) that maintain exclusive territories and are temporarily defended by male coalitions. Males compete with each other for prides and nomadic coalitions in an attempt to oust the resident male or males.

Nomadic takeovers are the primary drivers of natal dispersal, resulting in large variation in dispersal age, with higher mortality among young lions, and infanticide by nomads tends to mediate population growth. Source: Lion population dynamics: do nomadic males matter? Natalia Borrego

For maturing males to survive their nomad years, they have to be fit, strong, and must have learnt the ways of the wild. All of these skills together with the confidence that comes with survival lessons well learnt will be needed to take over and maintain their own pride.

“Don’t be satisfied with stories, how things have gone with others. Unfold your own myth.” ~ Rumi

Explore, seek to understand, marvel at its inter-connectedness and let it be.

Have fun, Mike

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