The Offbeat Pride

Monday, February 9, 2009

Posted by Sara Blackburn at 11:28 AM

This week I ventured down to Olare Orok to Mara Offbeat Camp to see if I could build on the MPP identification database. I know that this area has always been good for big cats - just south-east of Leopard Gorge, the camp is surrounded by beautiful valleys, densely wooded tributaries and rolling hills teeming with game. Julieta and Frank the camp managers told me about their resident pride - the Offbeat lions - four young lionesses and a blonde and older male. The question was: would I be able to navigate the rocks and luggas to find thesse new lions?

Above: one of the Offbeat lionesses

For the first day the lions remained hidden, but we were blessed with two leopards - a male and a female pair. Their interractions were rather heated, but unlike lions, leopard are solitary cats and aggression between mating pairs is not unusual.

My luck turned when the following morning the Offbeat scouts found Baakir the old lion wandering the plains. He's a bit of a character and has obviously had a long and varied life... I would guess that he is one of the oldest lions in Koiyaki at around 12 years of age. Despite this, he has been seen mating with the Offbeat lionesses and doing well to retain his status of pride male. Unfortunately his blonde-maned companion was nowhere to be seen, and Baakir was the only male we found during my brief stay.

Above: good spot! The Offbeat scouts quickly find our old lion.

That morning I also happened upon some regulars up on Lion Hill - Tanya and her three boisterous cubs Binty, Mosi and Sudi. It was interesting to see them here instead of their usual hangout by Leopard Gorge, and I am unsure as to their connections to the Offbeat pride. It is possible for pride ranges to overlap on a temporal basis, and so if two lions are found at the same location, but at differen times, they may not necessarily be in the same pride. Tanya and the troublesome trio looked hungry and ready to hunt, but I had other lions to find!

Above: a familiar face in the bushes

The cool thing about the Offbeat lions is that they certainly don't keep quiet as to their whereabouts! Using the direction of their roars each evening and at sunrise, we tracked down the lionesses on the opposite side of the river the following morning. The river had been high, but a couple of days of dry weather allowed us to explore a greater area. The four females were with Baakir, and there was also news of another lioness nearby showing signs of pregnancy. Unfortunately she passed into dense bush before we got close.

Below: tree hugging!

For the next few outings we concentrated on the Offbeat lionesses, trying to get ID shots. It's harder than you think - they had a habit of finding the rockiest hills! Three of the lionesses had some great distinguishing features, and seem relatively easy to tell apart. I'm sure that they all have their own characters, and they certainly are an active bunch, digging out warthog holes, chasing each other over streams, climbing trees and wrestling.

Above: the playful pride

After careful debate, we decided to call the four lionesses Leia, Imogen, Jade and Lucinda.

Unfortunately I had to return to camp last night, but it was great to meet Frank, Julietta and the team, and of course the Offbeat pride.