Bushlife Safaris February 4, 2020

Love in Mana Pools

It’s February which means it’s time for that much celebrated courting rituals of humans – Valentine’s! As love is in the air, we decided to investigate what sort of relationships you can expect to find amongst the birds and beasts of Mana Pools:


Elephants don’t partner up permanently but rather breed together just for about a week at a time, when the cows are in oestrus and the bull is in musth. Musth is the name given to the bull elephants when it is mating season, and due to their extra hormones the bull are much more aggressive.  Bulls will fight over a cow who is in season, and it can be difficult to guess which bull fathered a calf as several bulls may mate with a cow during that week. Typically, breeding occurs during the rainy season in Mana Pools. The gestation period is the longest of all mammals – 660 days or nearly 2 years!

Painted wolves mating

Painted wolves

Painted wolves’ do pair up with a partner for life. Each pack chooses an alpha female and alpha male, and these two painted wolves are the breeding pair for the pack. They will remain the alphas for the duration of their lives. During the last season in Mana Pools, the alpha male of the Nyakasanga Pack, Jiani was killed by lions so a new alpha male will need to be chosen to breed with Violet, the alpha female. Mating normally happens in April in Mana Pools, with puppies being born in June after a 2-month gestation period.


Lions breed throughout the year, but generally females breed with one or two adult males from their pride. In the wild, lions breed only once every few years. A male lion exhibits a special type of grimace called a “Flehmen response”. This is when a lion inhales the scent from the lioness’s urine over the Jacobson’s gland, which is located in his upper palate. He does this to detect any hormones in the urine that may signal that she is ready for breeding.

The female will come into season for three or four days, and during this time the pair will mate every 20-30minutes, with up to 50 copulations per 24 hour period. The reason for this extended copulation is thought to stimulate ovulation, and secure paternity for the dominant male.

There is intensive competition between male lions for mating opportunities and aggressive fighting is the norm to get the female. A male lion has a mane to help protect their necks from injury during these fights. The mane also makes them look bigger and hopefully will intimidate rivals, and younger males. Interestingly, research has shown that females prefer male lions with large dark manes.

Lion Fleschman
Zambezi River Hippos


Mating in hippopotamus takes place in the water – the female is submerged, except for brief intervals to breathe, whilst the male’s head is not submerged.  Hippos are polygamous and several males may breed with the same female whilst she is in season. Hippos are the only land mammals to breed in water. June is the peak breeding season on the Zambezi River, and babies are born 8,5 months later so in February.

African Fish Eagles

African Fish Eagles are known to be monogamous and pair for life –  breeding once a year. The pair reinforce their bond with a calling duet between them – most ofen heard at the beginning of the breeding. As is common with eagles, they use the same nest each year, with a few structural improvements each year! During breeding season they perform courtship flight displays which usually involve soaring and calling between the breeding pair, and some occasional talon tangling mid-air!

African Fish Eagle
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