Mashatu – the mating game

This was November in Mashatu. Many changes had taken place in the lions’ world in Mashatu. The handsome unscarred male lion who had been dominant for several years was deposed and pushed out into the adjacent property called Charter. Two younger males in the early phase of their prime had taken over the Mashatu territory. The manes of these males were still relatively blonde. The older the male generally the darker his mane. Dark-maned male lions are known to have a higher level of testosterone, which means they are stronger and more aggressive fighters. An aggressive male is better able to defend his pride.

“We no longer have the luxury of time when it comes to big cats. They are in such a downward spiral that if we hesitate now, we will be responsible for extinctions across the globe. If there was ever a time to take action, it is now.” ~ Dereck Joubert

On our second morning we found the two males with three lionesses. The blonder male was lying on his own away from the other male and two lionesses.

It was late afternoon and there were many stinging flies biting the male lying on his own. To prevent being stung the male was swishing his tail back and forth and was also trying to bite at the flies.

The third lioness who had been lying away from the other lions walked up to the male lying on his own. She lingered for a few months taking in his scent.

“Things are not always as they seem; the first appearance deceives many.” ~Phaedrus

She then brushed past and nuzzled him catching his attention. She then without a pause walked past him with without a backward glance and strode over to the other male lying with the other two lionesses.

It was clear from the first interaction that the male lying with the two lionesses was the dominant member of the male coalition. The third lioness walked straight up to the dominant male and started rubbing herself against him ensuring that he caught her scent. She was ready to mate.

The female usually invites the male to have intercourse by assuming a position known as lordosis. The dominant male quickly got the message and began mating with her right next to the other two lionesses who seemed unfazed. The mating did not raise a reaction from either of the other two lionesses.

Lions have no particular breeding season, and often synchronise breeding, especially after a pride takeover, which enables them to raise the cubs communally. A lioness mates up to 100 times per day with an average interval of 17 minutes, each mating lasting for around 21 seconds. Male cats have spines on their penis to cause slight trauma to the vagina upon withdrawal.  The resulting pain triggers ovulation.  It probably also explains why females bare their teeth at males during mating. (Source: ALERT: African Lion & Environmental Research Trust). We came away from this sighting with the firm impression that the mating male lion was the dominant member of the coalition so all the females gravitated towards him and were effectively his.

Two days later, in a much more open windswept part of the reserve near the vlei (local name for a marsh) we found all five lions. This time the male previously seen on his own had a female with him.

“True merit, like a river, the deeper it is, the less noise it makes.” ~ Edward Wood

He was very protective of her and every time she got up to walk back to the other lionesses he followed her. As soon as she got close to the other male he would shield her from him. There was no antagonism between the two males.

The less dominate male started to mate with the female right next to the dominate male and two lionesses. The dominant male just looked on with complete acceptance despite the fact that he had mated with her two days before.

“The greatest fear in the world is of the opinions of others. And the moment you are unafraid of the crowd you are no longer a sheep, you become a lion. A great roar arises in your heart, the roar of freedom.” ~ Osho

The slightly overcast afternoon was very peaceful and the mating took place every twenty minutes or so.

At one point the two mating lions got close to the dominant male and he backed away to lie in-between the lionesses. This behaviour looked amusing and stirred the ire of one lioness who was sat on.

The mating pair eventually moved further away from the other three lions. The wind was blowing but it was warm. At one point the mating male lay a metre or two from his lioness. He looked relaxed but pensive.

“See life as if it is perfectly framed. Look for the good light, best composition, framing, because it will make you view life in a different, more perfect way. It makes life better if you can see perfection in an image you make, even if the image is of a slaughtered elephant, or people caught in rubble after an earthquake. ” ~ Dereck Joubert

At no point did the mating male lion close his eyes but just watched the whole scene with a quiet acceptance.

Lions live in prides that consist of one primary male lion, several females and one or two lesser males. The primary male mates with his lionesses. Females might also mate with more than one partner. Several females are likely to be in heat at the same time. The pride leader, usually is the first to mate with each female in heat. He might tire of them during their cycle which gives the lesser male get an opportunity to mate.

“Without conservation, nature fails. Without nature, our souls wither, ecosystems fail, culture disappears, and it takes with it our integrity, our self worth, our common drive to strive for better. The eternal battle within each of us is mirrored in the way we interact with nature. If we lose this battle we don’t just lose animals, or litter a few highways. We lose our souls.” ~ Dereck Joubert

Explore, seek to understand, marvel at its interconnectedness and let it be.

Have fun, Mike

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