A half-eaten lioness lies dead at Marthly Pools. Dean and Elmon discovered her at sunset on Thursday and broke the news to those game drives that hadn’t closed down for a gin and tonic and a piece of cheese.

After drive Jerry and I headed to the village for a cold beer to toast the life of the old Tslalala Tail-less Female. We don’t have a coroner here and Dean and Elmon didn’t manage to positively identify who it was – but instinctively most of us know who it is who lies at the Tsalala Pride’s favourite haunt.

Over the past few days all the other females have been accounted for and so without having to lift her gums and check for the missing canine we’ve let her lie in state in the shade of the magnificent Albizia that she so frequently climbed to while away the hottest hours of the day.

In The North, the Tsalala Pride reign supreme. Here, all 8 of the cubs from the two 2011 litters stand guard on a termite mound, waiting for the return of their mothers.

Happier times for the Tsalala pride a few months ago – The cubs lie in wait for the tailless female to return to them.

It is sad news out of the Bushveld, and for those of you who encountered her on game drive it may even seem tragic. After some reflection however I’ve decided that to describe the death of a 15 year old lioness as being premature is like grieving for a 1000 year old Leadwood that no longer bears leaves.  She was an old lioness whose 15 years may seem to be such a short time measured by us but by lion years at Londolozi she was well advanced in her years.

She made her first appearance at Londolozi as a cub in 1998. Two females from the Castleton Pride, hesitant to take small cubs back into a main group of 22, brought their litter to Londolozi and set up a territory west of the Camps. They were often viewed near Tsalala Pan which became an obvious choice for the name of this new pride.

The beautiful female prior to losing her tail.

The beautiful female prior to losing her tail.

By 2002, both the adult females were dead, one having being kicked fatally by a zebra and the other being killed by hyena in front of Tree Camp. The only other cub to have survived with her was a brother who would unbelievably be poached, leaving her alone and then in oestrus. She sought out the two dominant Marthly Males and in December 2002 produced her first litter that would include the two adult lionesses of the Tsalala Pride.

She always has been a phenomenal huntress, that never changed!

Her track record as a mother was sullied by the various male lion wars that she witnessed. Her attempts at raising young were to be frequently interrupted by the change-over of landlords: after the Marthly Males came the Kruger Male, the Shaws Males, the Mapogo Coalition and then finally the Majingilane Males, with each new territory holder wiping out the young genes of the previous males and then planting their own. I would love to have seen just how many cubs she would have reared to adulthood with a stable male dynamic, and it’s a pity that the relative stability that the Majingilane Males have offered since 2010 came so late in her life. Perhaps her daughters will benefit from the relative ‘peacetime’ that she never knew.

She has been such a good mother to so many.

She has been such a good mother to so many.

It wasn’t necessarily all search, seek and destroy. In the midst of all of this male warfare she played a clever game of ‘hide and seek’ long enough for five cubs to escape infanticide. The first survivor was the Tsalala Young Male who was fathered by the Marthly Males. He was the sole survivor of a litter of four that she protected first against the Kruger Male and then successfully hid from the Shaws Males. It was during this trying period that she lost her tale in a fight with a hyena and became known as the Tail-less Female.

She and her two daughters also had eight cubs fathered by the Mapogo coalition. Four of those were killed by the Majingilane Males through 2010 and 2011 but the canny lioness took sole responsibility for the four remaining young females moving with them away from Sparta and Marthly and kept them out of harm’s way until they were adults.  Those four females are now the Munghen Pride and she left them to their own devices when they were capable enough, in order to re-join her two adult daughters.

Here, one can see the patience that she has had with all her cubs.

It is an amazing legacy that she contrived under adverse circumstances. Ironically she was killed by the Munghen females that she battled so hard to protect. A kudu was killed in a daytime hunt by the four lionesses early last week. Hungry and with cubs to feed they did not welcome the old female who arrived at the carcass and gave her a mauling that she couldn’t recover from. It’s a bizarre twist in an unusual tale, but then again lion dynamics tend towards the disfunctional.

I’ve often wondered about the celebrity of this particular lioness. Was she just more recognisable to us because of her missing tail, or is her story really so compelling? Aren’t all wild lionesses subject to grim battles of survival? I don’t have the answer for that and with part of her story told here you can make your own mind up. What I’m sure about is that she will be sorely missed in a very venerable and untragic way…

The older tailless Tsalala lioness walks through a dry section of the Sand River in search of the rest of her pride. She found them in the company of the Majingilane a few hundred metres further on.

The older tailless Tsalala lioness walks through a dry section of the Sand River in search of the rest of her pride. She found them in the company of the Majingilane a few hundred metres further on. This is one of the last times she was seen.

Written by Tom Imrie

Filed under Photography Wildlife

About the Author

Tom Imrie

Field Guide

Tom is the voice of wisdom, reason and logic on the Londolozi Ranging Team, as well as all the other facets that go hand-in-hand with being an intellectual far beyond the realm of most mere mortals. There are very few subjects under the ...

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on Tsalala original tailless female is dead
    Arden Zalman says:

    She is in Lion Heaven & we will miss her but honored that she was in our lives

    Katy Chandler says:

    I have been wondering what happened to her. I watched her story unfold on Big Cat Diary. I am tickled to hear she survived 15 years !! She was inspiring when it came to survival. I am still looking for updates on Solo, her son. Thank you for the tribute.

    Adam Bannister says:

    This is extremely sad news. This female had a big place in many of our hearts. Her story was remarkable and will be told around many a campfire. I wish her well. Farewell my friend, you were my favourite lion! You have played a massive role in the lion dynamics of the Sabi Sand and your gene-line will continue. I will never forget the many moments that Solly and I tracked you, viewed you, photographed you and marveled at your beauty and perseverance. Solly loved you too and Marthly Pools was a special place indeed. Rest in Peace the Original Tailless Female.

    Wendy Hawkins says:

    Beautiful tribute to a wonderful Lioness! I am sure that she will be missed by you all. RIP old girl 🙁

    Iren Juppa says:

    Thanks <3

    Nancy Armitage says:

    My heart is saddended by the news of the death of the old tailless lioness. I hope her story will go on through the years as one of the special lioness of Londolozi. We first saw her many years ago with the raw wound from her tail being ripped off by hyenas while she was protecting her cubs. At that time she still had two subadult male lions. One was later killed by the Mapogo pride and the other is alive and named Solo. Two years after that sighting we saw her with her two adult daughters with the Mapogo Pride and then saw her last summer walking slowly with her two daughters and found out later she was pregnant at that time with her final cub. She was a nurturing mother, as well as a courageous and wise lioness.

    Shirley says:

    BB lived many years, and her story was followed from the beginning to the end. This is an amazing advantage these days to be able to follow them as we do.

    Sandy Johnson says:

    Oh my gosh, such sad news. Tom, am I understanding that she was killed by her own daughters?

    Mike says:

    R.I.P. B.B. That is so sad she was AWESOME!

    Vicki says:

    My heart is broken…………I will have a hard time looking at the breakways again without thinking about what they did to their mother/grandmother. BB was my favorite lion in all of SS for many years…….I have followed her as closely as the internet allowed since she was very young. I know many of the trackers and rangers have followed her more closely longer since they were there to see it all happen in person. In my eyes this is the greatest lioness to live through all she has and been able to raise as many cubs in litters not composed of singletons with no other cubs in the pride as she has.I knew ” precious” as Adam named her would be BB last cub, I was so disappointed when she didn’t make it :(. BB is the only reason there is a tsalala pride or breakaway pride in SS…………what greater tribute to her?

    Suzanne Myers says:

    Vicki~ I so agree with you!!!! I was sad too the little cub didn’t make it but never heard what happened to it!!! I have not heard what happened to BB …How can I if you know find out>?

    Suzanne Myers says:

    Tears flow from my eyes as I say farewell to MY QUEEN,MY HERO,MY LOVE, B.B. I know in our eyes 15 is a few years BUT cheers to this BRAVE~GALLANT~BEAUTIFUL GIRL that made it for many years!!!!She will be greatly missed. It was just days ago she was trailing UP in the tree of a leopards kill!!!! I thank-you so much for the news!!! As in every picture I looked for “BB”…. She had won my heart!!!! She will live in my heart and memories!!! “BB” RIP !!

    Lisa O says:

    What a lovely tribute Tom, as always you write so well. Sad loss for all!

    Vicki says:

    Londolozi……..you don’t need to post this,( I would prefer you didn’t) is a special request. Could you please do a special blog and post pictures of her……..(not of her lying there gone) that have been taken through the years. Give her the credit due as you have done with other special animals who primarily reside in your area?

    shirley Bruynder says:

    Very sad news. I love lions. She was my favorite and a remarkable lioness. She is now in
    heaven . I will miss her. R.I.P. my lionness.

    Dhiradj Ramautarsing says:

    Must have been tough for her when she realized the ones whose lifes she had saved were killing her.

    gloria says:

    RIP SWEET BB You have lived a full life.It makes it hard to believe your own relatives killed you.I understand the dynamatice of the bush but will be hard knowing that the ones you nutured also brought about your demise.I will always remember how you an then your daughter also lost her tail an carried on.How close you were to her.A big ROAR to you my sweet girl I will miss all the updates on you in the future.You r now in the big lion heaven just being BB.Thxs so much for this blog as i know it was so hard to write. So many of us loved you Grandma

    Rosie says:

    RIP BB, you were a great lioness and will be greatly missed by many around the world. It’s so hard to hear that the grandaughters that she fought so hard to protect and bring up, and stop the males from killing, have done this to her. I suppose we must remember though that they are also the offspring of the Mapogos. She was such a magnificent looking lioness, it was always such a pleasure to see her on the internet while watching the Wildearth drives, she always reminded me of a boxer dog without her tail ! RIP beautiful lady, a little piece of my heart goes with you.

    Lucien Beaumont says:

    To the first lioness I tracked and found on foot, the Tsalala tailless will be sorely missed. What a legendary big cat of Londolozi!

    Sheena says:

    My heart aches for those of you who had the joy to witness her journey in life, and Adam’s comments made me shed a tear for the loss of such a female warrior – she lives on in her pride and I am sure will remain a beloved part of Londolozi for many many years. Fly high BB, fly high ….

    Tim Long says:

    I can only imagine what the rangers and trackers at londo must be feeling.. Reading this story just brings tears to my eyes.. I will never forget the day we spent both morning and evening drives tracking the tsala pride to only find them teaching a young lion how to hunt, but really teaching us how to hunt.. That night was so black.. she used the jeep as cover as she sat down next to Marty’s and mine seat as she circled the impala.. what a memory to have of that old lady..

    Sandy DePaul says:

    I didn’t think I would cry again..after the death of “The Mapogos”, but aging cats are not my strong suit. I followed BB for a long time…I loved her dearly. I know she is in a better place today….after Karula is gone…..no more attachment…..probably.

    Judy Guffey says:

    The mother of all patience! What a fitting tribute to her love of her cubs.

    Lynn Rattray says:

    So very sad. I’m speechless at how her end came. Please explain how this happens in the lions’ world.

    Clarice says:

    Tears come to my eyes while reading this story. We had the opportunity of seeing her when we went to Londolozi last March. And we will never forget her. She was a queen and will always be!!!!! Very well written, Tom. Congratulations!!!!

    MJ says:

    BB was one special lioness.. We will miss her.
    The bush is not a place that makes room for the old or the disabled. Life sometimes does not seem fair. But BB lived a long and wonderful life.. She will be sorely missed

    Tom, what a wonderful, insightful article this is! You are correct of course; 15 years is a ripe old age for a lion in the wild……but of course it is still sad. The lives of lions is never an easy one; and now the future of these awesome animals is endangered. It would be nice for everyone to send a gift of money or write a letter to proper authorities, in honor of this female.

    Carsten says:

    Tom, you are an excellent writer, and you gave tribute and homage to BB the way she deserved… She was truly a beautiful lioness, an awesome mother, and has seen so much in her time… It is too bad that her own daughters gave her such a savage beating… If lions respected their parents, the way humans respected theirs, I am sure they would be so happy to see her, and run their children to their grandma in glee… Unfortunately, when food is short and there is kids to feed, the lion will reject their own blood…and BB felt the brunt of her daughters aggression. It sucks but, at least we had her for 15 year–and that’s a victory in its own right.

    Thank you Tom, I look forward to reading more of your poetic style of writing again.


    Amy says:

    I can’t begin to tell you how sad my family is to hear of her passing – especially in the way it happened. We were privileged to have seen her and her two daughters and granddaughters in the summer of 2012. We had heard the many stories of her and what a wonderful mother she was and were thrilled to get to “meet” her in person. We are certain that there is sadness at Londolozi as well as throughout the world as she touched many. She will be remembered and missed.

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