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Lesson 5: Hunting buffalo comes at a price.

It is essential to understand how lions operate. I have mentioned before that lion prides rely on the females of the pride to provide the food. Males are too busy patrolling their territories and defending their pride against intruders and secondary predators such as hyena. Males often form "coalitions" in order to be more successful in this regard and may kill from time to time. A large pride with many females will, hypothetically, have a higher hunting success rate. So, if the pride is big and can hunt successfully as a result of the big hunting team (females), then they will also need to hunt prey species that are large enough to feed the whole pride.  
Individual lion prides, therefor, often specialise on one particular species of prey.  In Sabi Sand, Southern Africa, a pride of lions called “The Buffalo pride” became so specialized in their hunting that they were documented in hunting mostly buffalo – the most dangerous animal on the African plains.
The Buffalo pride may well have been one of the most infamous lion prides in all of Africa. They were unique in that they were a group of 13 females and a single male. The male was one of the most magnificent specimen I have ever witnessed. He rarely participated in the hunt, rather preoccupied to keep other male lions at bay and to subdue the role of secondary predators and scavengers. You might rightfully agree that they were a formidable and successful pride. It was their success however that made them vulnerable as a pride. This magnificent pride, was not successful in raising a single cub to maturity in more than four years. There were many reasons for this extraordinary high mortality of their cubs. Cubs were predated upon by other carnivores as well as killed by buffalo. There was also the problem of abandonment of the cubs. All the females were pulled in to make these big kills and mothers often got so absorbed by the hunting activity that they “forgot” they had cubs. Success does come at a price… their sustainability as a pride was never determined by how big the kills were that they were feeding on, but rather about how successful they would hunt in the future! With no cubs to raise, their future was at stake despite their success in hunting. Indeed a powerful metaphor for business!
We studied, at the same time, a rival pride of lions in the Sabi Sand Reserve, called “The Central pride”. Even though they were successful in hunting, it was their ability to reproduce cubs, that caught our attention. The females had what was commonly known as Synchronized estrus. Females came on heat at the same time and also gave birth more or less at the same time. An excellent survival mechanism that allowed for communal rearing and raising of the cubs. Once a lioness returned to the pride with her cubs, she raised them alongside other new mothers in a nursery group, or crèche. The advantage of this close association was that multiple mothers were available to defend the cubs and could take care of them during hunting.
Our research proved that the cubs of the central pride were more likely to survive when they were raised in a nursery rather than by a solitary mother. This advantage of reproductive success gives female lions an incentive to synchronize their breeding, which they do.
A female will only re-join the pride with her cubs if the cubs already established in the pride are not more than 3 months old. The reason for this is that all lactating females suckle cubs indiscriminately, showing only limited favouritism to their own offspring.


Photo credit:  Neal Cooper (CNP Safaris)

Have you become so successful in your organization that there is just no time to invest in the development of your future leaders? Are you so successful in making "buffalo kills" that development in your pride is not even on your business agenda?

Organizations do need to make those “kills” on a daily basis to survive, but ultimately the success of a “pride” will be determined by more than just how successful they hunt today, it will be about how successful they will be able to hunt in the future. An organization’s ability to “Raise up giant killers” will be the only way to ensure sustainability for the future! Despite the priority and the opportunity it creates to raise up their own talent, some organizations do not recognize the importance of developing their own future leaders. They simply see leadership development and mentoring as “fads” that will pass. Some prefer to poach skilled staff to ensure competitiveness. This approach however is not expanding the pool of critical skills, it is dipping into the same pool.

In nature, successful prides do get it right. The lioness models those non-negotiable qualities of good mentorship but also appreciate that she has a dual role as mother and hunter. She strategically times the raising of her cubs and exposes them at the right moment to different activities in the pride. Finally she recognizes the importance to wean and encourages the young adults to hunt for themselves. Ultimately she contributes to the success and the sustainability of the pride.

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