Luangwa lions Ginger and Garlic

Ginger and Garlic—given their names by local guides--have been the highlight of many thousands of safaris occurring each year in South Luangwa National Park, and they are arguably Zambia’s most famous lions (after Lady Liuwa, who died in 2017). The two males, dubbed the Spice Boys, are not only favorites because they are pride males in the most visible pride in the main game viewing area, but also because of Ginger’s unique coloring. 

The two males have been part of ZCP’s collaborative lion study with the Department of National Parks and Wildlife, Zambia’s longest running lion project. Throughout the course of their lives-- from the time they were cubs to their current status as coalition males with their own territory—Ginger and Garlic have helped generate valuable data on lion population dynamics, prey selection, coalition dynamics, and habitat use, among others—critical information that has helped guide conservation and management decisions. We have kept track of them with the help of collared females in their prides and our citizen science initiative with safari guides called the Luangwa Valley Carnivore Monitoring Programme.

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Both males are originally from the Luwi Pride. Ginger was born in 2008 as part of a litter of 3 cubs, all with unique coat markings. One of the cubs was so dark and spotted that he could pass for a leopard cub at first glance. Ginger was, however, the most unusual of the litter. He was born with a very light colored coat (hence his name) that made him easily stand out from the whole pride. He also had a distinct lack of the dark pigmentation that lions usually have on their noses and the bottom of their paws. Ginger had no black fur behind his ears like most lions and his tail tip was orange instead of black.  

Life as a young male lion is challenging, and it was expected to be more so for Ginger with his distinctive coloring. He dispersed from the Luwi Pride with a cohort of 3 other males in 2011 and was rarely seen on game drives. Most of the infrequent sighting were reported by guides on walking safaris. People predicted he would not survive the dispersal phase because his appearance would make him seem weaker, making him a special target for competing males. However, he defied the odds and returned at the end of 2015 and, with Garlic, took over the nearly 30-strong Big Pride.

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Garlic, an amazing lion in his own right, was born in 2010.  He stayed with the Luwi Pride for two years after Ginger and the other males dispersed. Garlic was regularly seen with 4 lionesses until the end of 2013.  Sightings of him became rare till he teamed up with Ginger and took over the Big Pride. Not much is known about the fate of the other males that Ginger initially dispersed with but it was quite interesting that he would reunite with his pride mate despite the two year difference in dispersal times.

Since their return to the main game viewing area of SLNP, Ginger and Garlic have become local celebrities. The first sighting in the main game viewing area was around Chichele Hill and it was greeted with a lot of excitement. Like the prodigal sons had returned! Since then, they have been regular safari fixtures and have gained quite a following. Ginger even has his own page on Facebook and people in the village regularly ask ZCP staff and guides how the males and their pride are doing. Perhaps the most remarkable sign of their popularity is the fact that people in the village are naming their pets after the Spice Boys!