Friday, 9 May 2008

The Khuma Pride of Lions

I was asked if I would write a post for the WEBlog about what I know of the Khuma Pride of lions from the Djuma Game Reserve. These lions are not well documented and information about them before 2006 - well, I couldn't find any. I only got to see little snippets of the pride... teasers. I was one of the people who truly had a hard time getting a connection. I saw them in little 5 to 10 minute segments, the longest connections I got - and much of my viewing was thanks to videos posted by the generous folk who knew how to do them. I was always left wanting to see more. This was the first time I had a chance to know a lion family ... and they grabbed my heart without me realizing it. I loved seeing the mamas and their little ones. I knew this was not a story, but real-life nature - I knew we were never sure of a "happily ever after". I couldn't help but get attached to them. The cubs -who could resist?
There are a number of variations for the pride's name - Nukuhuma, Kahuma, Humas, Khumas. The name "Kahuma" means, in Shangaan, "come out" and they "came out" from the Manyaleti-Kruger National Park area in the northeast part of Djuma, having been seen on the very northern borders in late 2005, but not yet making their way into the area traversed by Djuma Game Reserve vehicles. They were reported in the Djuma Ranger Diaries in Nov/Dec of 2006 and were 12-13 strong at that time - 2 adult males, 1 young male, the rest females and cubs. They took over territory that had previously been that of the Skatani Pride, who were all dead by this time. There were many different males who attempted to take over the area, but the Khumas were the ones that finally settled in, after a short period of residence by a group known as the 3+1 pride.
The young male mentioned seems to have vanished - Jan speaks of him in the Sep 19, 2007 WEBlog as though he was a son of the pride males. Though Rexon does not know about this young male specifically, he said the usual thing that would happen is that he would have been thrown out of the pride at about 2 1/2 years or he would have just left and ended up making his own coalition.
The Khumas were seen moving about on the Djuma property throughout 2007, usually staying north of the southern boundary. The WildEarth game drives first showed them to us in July 2007.


I loved watching the "old" cubs teaching the "new" cubs how to play, and seeing up to perhaps 7 mamas on a sighting. It was great fun watching the antics of the cubs growing, playing, exploring, and bravely learning just how it was that they should chew up those tough old buffalos. I loved looking at the two powerful males, quiet and strong, magnificent in the last sunlight of the evening, just lying in the grass, noses tilted upwards & sniffing the breezes.


No doubt these were the guys in charge. We watched them mating in the late months of 2007...with other than the ladies of their pride. In December, there was the most wonderful parade of all sizes of young lions.
I couldn't believe there were so many trotting along behind the in-charge Auntie, stopping to have a look back at us, some of them flopping down and practicing their resting techniques. I remember thinking what a lot of babies there were to look after and feed and keep safe.
There were about 15 little lions at this time. At this same time, there were reports of a powerful coalition of 6 male lions in the areas of Sabi Sands south of Djuma -The Mapogo Males. They were a force to be reckoned with, having taken over many areas and establishing themselves as the dominant males for a number of prides. It is thought that they are related, but not necessarily all brothers - probably cousins in the mix.
On Dec. 8 of 2007, the older dominant Khuma male, known to WildEarth viewers as Blondie, was mating with a Styx lioness on a property called Chitwa Chitwa, which borders Djuma to the south. The Mapogos were there too. When they found Blondie, there was a fierce fight. Blondie was killed by the Mapogos. The surviving male, known as Dozi, managed to escape to the north. The females scattered north also, with the many young cubs that had to be immediately relocated away from the Mapogos. I could not imagine how they were going to get all those little ones to safety. Some were very new and would have had a terribly hard time travelling on those little legs. It is not known the exact number of cubs that survived the move or if any of the females were found at that time by the Mapogos. Mating was reported to have taken place, but if they had mated at that time, cubs should be on the ground by now, and so far, I haven't heard of any.
Rexon was the one who reported Blondie's death to us that morning, and it was just the worst thing I could think to hear. I have seen my share of catfights out in my yard, and projecting the fierceness of the little domestic cats into what had happened at Chitwa Dam, I was horrified to think what probably had gone on with 5, or perhaps all 6, of those big strong males going after Blondie. I hoped he died quickly. Tears flowed for a long time that day. I did know about pride takeovers, but I never thought that it would touch me on this personal level - I had read about such things, but I was a witness this time, and I never expected it. And worse, I knew Dozi was out there somewhere as were all those babies....and I knew about infanticide. It was a profoundly sad day. We didn't know what had happened to the survivors. It seemed likely the Mapogos would be after them for sure.
In January, there was dramatic evidence of another encounter with the Mapogos. One of the older Khuma cubs was found dead, and from the evidence at the scene, it looked like the Mapogos had come upon the Khumas feeding on a giraffe kill. A fight ensued, and though the body of that one cub was the only one found near the giraffe carcass, two others were killed close to Buffelshoek Dam. Pieter presented it quietly and in a matter-of-fact manner, and I realized that, as much as I hoped they would be ok, the truth was that the cubs would not survive this. More sadness. What I had hoped would not happen, had happened, and it was likely to happen again with the other cubs. I was just one of many WE viewers who did not like the Mapogos very much in those days. Pieter reinforced that this is what lions do - and though I did understand that, I didn't like it. That was my lion family they were after. The Mapogos were indeed, as Pieter said, strong warriors, beautiful in their wildness and fierceness, but they were in the "bad guys" column on my page.
Later during that game drive, four of the Mapogos were seen, some sporting wounds from the encounter - and they were returning from the north, where we knew the females had gone with the cubs. (The 2 cubs killed near Buffelshoek Dam were probably found and killed at this time, I suppose.) It is written up in the WEBlog on Jan. 12, 2008. It is believed that the male, Dozi, was off mating with a Styx Pride lioness at the time, which quite possibly allowed him to survive this attack. One of the cubs that escaped became separated from the pride, but after several days alone, finally managed to join up with them again on a kill on the Kruger Border. That would have been a reunion to see....
Over the next months, & up to the present, the surviving Khuma pride has spent its time mostly in the north-eastern parts of the Djuma property, moving from time to time into Manyaleti and Kruger National Park - the area they originally came from in 2006. Prior to Blondie's death in December, Graham Cooke, from Djuma, had counted 10 lionesses + 2 males, along with 15 cubs. He took this pic Feb 4, when he found the surviving pride on a buffalo kill near the Kruger National Park border.


In the February 26 WEBlog, Jan reports that tracks of the Khuma male, Dozi, were found on the western boundary of Djuma near Vuyatela. Other members of the pride have also ventured back south into their old familiar territory from time to time, and on March 13, this "coming home" behaviour put them in the wrong place yet again.
Pieter told us more sad news as the afternoon drive began. The Mapogos had found the Khumas in thick bush, feeding on a waterbuck kill. We were shown the body of a Khuma lioness. It was reported initially that 2 cubs had been killed, but that number may have been 4 or perhaps 5. Apparently one of the cubs had been eaten, and that is not a usual behaviour. Nor is it usual for males to kill females when taking over a pride, but the speculation is that this Mama fought very fiercely and died protecting her cubs. She inflicted damage on the Mapogos as she fought them though - we saw 2 of them later during the drive, lying down and nursing some pretty impressive wounds. There could be as few as 8 cubs remaining now. Currently (since the death of Blondie) there have been up to 5 females seen at a time. Other lionesses may be alive though,and may have broken away into smaller groups, as they are known to do when a pride becomes very large.
On Apr 5, Pieter found 2 Khuma lionesses at Guarrie Pan, feeding on a kudu bull they had killed. Again, they are coming south into their old territory. No cubs were seen with them. They stayed at the kill until they managed to eat the whole thing, and then returned north to the rest of the pride.
On Apr 21, Dozi was seen in the north, feeding alone on a kill and looking well.
This drama continues. It is surprising that in the 4 1/2 months since the December attack killed the dominant Khuma male, The Mapogos have not yet found the pride and killed the remainder of the cubs. It seems inevitable that it will happen. The Mapogos are covering more and more of the Djuma property, having settled right in. The Khumas are being pressured by The Mapogos to move east toward Kruger, and who knows what other prides may be operating on the Manyaleti-Kruger National Park side, pressuring them to stay to the west.
We will just have to wait to see what comes next. I really don't want to do the part that almost certainly will happen.....the part where the Mapogos find the pride, and Dozi and the cubs will be killed. Then the cycle will start over, this time with Mapogo cubs and 5 strong males to be their protectors. It seems like so much to have happened in the 10 months since we met this pride....I guess that is what happens out there.


I obtained info from Djuma Ranger's Diary, Djuma Drumbeat (their newsletter), from Elephant Plains Sightings Reports, Ranger's Reports, and Elephant Plains Newsletter, the WEBlog, and from the WE Presenters Pieter and Rexon, and from Jan's WEBlog entries. Thank you Rexon for your help,information, and insights, and to Sue Lloyd who "grilled him" for me. Pics are from Colmaca, EmC, Sagresta of the MyAfrica Forum, and Graham Cooke, Djuma. Thank you also, Graham C, for so much help with the "back story" and for your current updates as the pride shows itself out on Djuma. At MyAfrica Forum...thanks to admins, colmaca and kb7get, and to members EmC and Sagresta. I had a great deal of fun doing this - thanks to Graham W. for inviting me.
Written by Lily - from the MyAfrica forum.

11 comments:

Anonymous said...

Lily...what a beautiful job you've done...I'm so proud of you...thank you.

Ex-centric
MyAfrica

Valorie - MyAfrica said...

That was a fantastic read.. brought me right back to those days when all of those events unfolded.. so emotional.

Good job, Lily! =)

Anonymous said...

Fantastic write-up Lily! Lots of work to put this history together and I appreciate it. Hope to see more from you with the continuing saga.
Deb

Anonymous said...

Lily, thanks so much for all of your hard work documenting this pride of lions we've all grown to know and love - and thanks WE for posting the info on your blog!Very, very well done, guys!! 2 thumbs up!

Beverly
Wildcall

kiotewoman said...

Lily,

What a wonderful job you did telling the story. Even though I knew the outcome so far I was on the edge of my seat while reading it. Kudos and congratulations for a fabulous tale.....and thank you for sharing it with us.

Anonymous said...

aLily...this narrative you have written for & about the Khuma's is brilliant, evoking a range of emotions. In this unfolding 'Circle of Life' you have done the Pride proud. Well done!!

Laura

Anonymous said...

Lily , reading was so sad, but lily you done a wonderful job..now i want to hear more and more,keep us informed please!!! Wildearth your the best , thank you

Anonymous said...

I have followed the Kahuma saga myself, as I watch WE. However, it was great to read the whole story in one continuous narrative. Well, the whole story up to this point, we know the story continues. You did a spectacular job Lily! Bravo!!

RandyWI
Camwatchers Cafe

Anonymous said...

Lily,

Thank you! What an wonderful write up you did. It took me back to all that has gone on and the struggles they have endured.

Calista

Claire-M. from Karulaland said...

Merci Lily,

I really enjoyed reading your text. You write with simplicity of great emotions.

Claire-M. aka Clic2007

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the history on the Khuma Pride. While I have followed the events, reading them all at once gave a much more complete picture. Evidently, when the Khuma Ptride was at full strength, it would have been considered a *SuperPride*. Nat'l Geo just did a program on SuperPrides.