Farewell to an old friend

The month of June 2008 bore witness to the end of an era. In 1997, two young male lions were introduced onto Welgevonden together with three young lionesses. Shortly after being released, the two male lions parted ways and occupied different sections of the reserve. Consequently, they became known as the western and southern males respectively.

Over the years, although preferring to operate independently from each other, these males would occasionally meet up on amicable terms. Several years ago, however, the western male moved into the southern section of the reserve where he joined up permanently with the southern male. Although their relationship was not always a picture of perfect harmony, these two old boys dominated proceedings in the south up until the beginning of this year when three young males from the northern part of the reserve moved south in an effort to establish their own territory.

Originally, the two old boys were more than a match for the young upstarts, but when challenged again recently, the two older lions, which were rapidly approaching the ripe old age of 12, could no longer resist the inevitable. After fierce fighting, the two old males were usurped as the dominant pride males.

This is perfectly natural and in keeping with normal lion dynamics whereby younger and stronger males replace those that are old and weak and that have outlived their usefulness to the pride. It is nature’s way of ensuring genetic diversity and of controlling population growth as new males kill any young cubs in the pride to bring the females into estrus to ensure that their energy is expended raising their own offspring and not that of another male.

In the fighting, the western male was badly injured and eventually could no longer keep up with his companion, the southern male. The western male had never been an accomplished hunter and without the support of the pride or his companion, his condition deteriorated quickly. He disappeared early in June and was suspected dead until he was observed by the fence patrollers in a remote corner of the reserve. He was in extremely poor condition and was clearly suffering, a mere shadow of his former glory. The attached picture was taken three weeks before he died, and as can be seen, he was already in a very weak condition.

As he could barely walk anymore, a decision was taken to end his suffering. A sad day indeed for all who had enjoyed his regal presence on Welgevonden over the years. Farewell, old friend, rest in peace.