Tracks in the dust. Roars on the night air. The Tsalala pride sniffing bushes where an unknown lion(s) had clearly passed by the night before. These were the only signs we previously had of the Matimba males’ presence on Londolozi. We knew they’d been here, but their tracks invariably crossed over our northern or eastern boundaries and the lions themselves were long gone. Three nights ago however, on a random evening drive, two of us were lucky enough to have a huge male lion with an enormous mane walk out of the darkness at us. It was one of the Matimba males, viewed for the first time on Londolozi.

There had been some exciting lion activity over the previous few days, with the Tsalala Pride being chased by the Styx males twice (more on this in a blog coming next week) and becoming separated, and the return of three of the Majingilane.

A chance to see the Majingilane is too good an opportunity to pass up, so ranger Dave Strachan and I jumped in a vehicle after dinner to see if we could find them again. Greg Pingo and Andrea Sithole had left them heading steadily south, not too far from camp, but it seems we were too late on the trail, as after scouring the area for awhile we had come up with no signs of them. Dave suggested we head a little further east, down towards the river, in the direction the Styx males and the Tsalala youngsters had been seen heading earlier that evening. If we couldn’t find the Majingilane, we’d settle for any other lions as a close second. As it turns out, it was an inspired suggestion.

The night was pitch black and windy. The impalas were nervous. Conditions were perfect for predators on the hunt.

We came down onto a prominent clearing not too far from camp, and all the spotlight revealed at first was some huddled groups of impala and wildebeest. A pitch black night is not a good time for prey animals to move about too much, as they can’t be sure what’s out there, particularly when it’s windy and their senses of smell become confused. As a result, the herbivores often find it prudent to sit tight and await the dawn. Driving up towards the crest, we saw a group of impala faintly illuminated in the headlight beam, running across the clearing. Thinking something may have spooked them, Dave swung the spotlight in that direction, but we only saw a lone wildebeest trotting along behind the impala. We presumed that in the darkness the impala had heard the wildebeest moving and had got a fright. How wrong we were, as from out behind a gwarrie bush walked one of the biggest male lions I have ever seen! Identifying individual lions or leopards in the beam of a spotlight can be slightly more difficult than in the day, as the light can play tricks on your eyes, but one thing was clear; neither Dave nor I had ever seen a lion with a mane so impressive. This was no Majingilane, nor was it a Styx, Fourways or Matshipiri male. Having heard of the Matimba male with the enormous mane, this was the only lion we thought it could be.

We followed him for a while, trying to capture some footage. He was moving steadily towards the river, but luckily for us was staying in the open. We looped ahead to wait for him and hopefully get a view of him walking straight towards us, and as we rounded a thicket about 60m ahead, we came across a herd of impala, as wary as any others we had seen that evening. Not wanting to influence events, we turned our lights off according to protocol and sat waiting. All was still for a few seconds, but something must have spooked the impala, for they began running uphill towards where the lion was approaching in the darkness. The sudden increase in hoofbeat volume accompanied by what can only be described as a strangled-off bleat and a thud told us that something had happened, so we switched on the spotlight and drove forward, to see the lion with a dead, fully-grown impala clamped firmly in his jaws, carrying it with no more difficulty than if it had been a newborn lamb. His immense strength must have made the impala’s death instantaneous, it was just the antelope’s bad luck that it, out of all its herd, was the one that happened to run pretty much straight into the lion’s jaws. The lion carried the carcass into a thicket and began feeding, his huge paws holding the body down while he ripped large chunks of meat off. We left him like that after about 45 minutes, still feeding. By morning he was gone.

How many times have the Matimba males, alone or together, wandered onto Londolozi in the dark of night and left again before we know anything about it? It is not uncommon for us to find tracks of male lions who we can’t immediately identify, and I think that, at least in our north-eastern areas, there’s a fair chance that some of them may be left by the Matimba males, performing a reconnaissance on fresh territory.

Will he/they be back? I think so…

Written and Filmed by James Tyrrell

Filed under Wildlife

About the Author

James Tyrrell

Photographic Guide/Media Team

James had hardly touched a camera when he came to Londolozi, but his writing skills were well developed, and he was quickly snapped up by the Londolozi blog team as a result. An environment rich in photographers helped him develop the photographic skills ...

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26 Comments

on Lion Warfare: Matimba Male Arrives on Londolozi

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Blair S
Guest

The Hairy Belly Matimba is a beast biggest male in Sabi Sands without a doubt his brother the Ginger Matimba is alsa a huge male but is abit smaller this is apparently the first time the have ever been south of the Sand River its looks like the Birminghams have pushed them out of the northern Sabi Sands

James Tyrrell

Hi Blair,

He is indeed a massive lion!
As far as I know the two males have been seen scent-marking around the MM Main Camp, which is south of the river, but this is certainly the first time we’ve seen them on our side. Marthly seems a bit vacant now as far as male lions go, so these two may well push into Tsalala territory if the Birminghams keep applying pressure…

Oliver
Guest

what a wonderful sighting, loved all the night sounds…

James Tyrrell

Hi Oliver,
We were very, very lucky to see him. No tracking or following his roars, just bumped into him coming round a corner. Let’s hope we see a bit more of this coalition..

marinda drake
Guest

Riveting stuff. Cant wait for the next update

Loretta Z
Guest

What an incredible sighting. Reading your blog I feel like I am right there watching it all unfold. From what I hear, the Matimbas have 4 brothers in the Manyeleti. Do you think they will head that way instead? I am also wondering if this Matimba’s presence will bring the Majingilane males back for more than just a security check.

Rob
Guest

As Blair said, the reason this guy is at Londolozi is because of the fact that the five Birmingham male lions came down from Manyeleti in early August and now have practically taken over the Matimbas’ territory around Djuma/ChitwaChitwa/Torchwood etc. It seems the two Matimbas prefer to run rather than confront the Birminghams. And yes, the Matimba you saw is named Hairy Belly and is without a doubt the most magnificent male lion with the largest mane in all of Sabi Sand. On another note, have you guys at Londolozi ever seen the Birmingham males on your property?

James Tyrrell

Hi Rob,

They have been seen on our side, although not as a full coalition. The last time I know of for certain was on February 28th when two of them were tracked and found by Rob Hletswayo and Sean Creswell, a kilometre or so from the Marthly/Arathusa boundary. This was still when they were being chased by the Majingilane a lot. I can’t recall any official sightings of them since then.
James

Jo
Guest

Wonderful blog! Matimbas are at a very difficult time now, but they are still great and powerful soldiers. Interesting to see their next move.
The Majingis do care about Londolozi, though they moved to the West for a long time. If they keep visiting Londolozi on occasion, they may buy the Tsalala sub-males some time to grow stronger. Wish you can locate them and enjoy their presence next time.

Jill Grady
Guest

That is a huge Lion James! If the Matimbas are being pushed out by the Birminghams how big are they, that they don’t want to confront them?!! I know you use the spot pattern to identify the different Leopards but how do you identify Lions? Do you think the Majingilane would win if confronted by the Matimbas? A lot of questions I know, but I’m fascinated by the Lion dynamics. Thank you for sharing such a great viewing with us James and I loved the video!

Joyce
Guest

The Birmingham’s are not as big as the Matimbas, Hairy Belly and Ginger, but there are 5 Birminghams and only 2 Matimbas. The numbers alone is why the Matimbas have gone South, and now West from Djuma area. There is also the dynamics of the Matimbas staying with the Styx pride since one of their lioness’ was killed by a Birmingham back in August. Just the day before the Birminghams came onto Djuma Hairy Belly was seen mating with a Styx lioness, and he is also the sire of the one remaining cub. The other two were killed by a Birmingham lion just days later.

Jill Grady
Guest

Thanks for the additional information Joyce. It will be interesting to see what happens next!

Jenifer Westphal
Guest

Wow! I agree – your video and blog made me feel like I was there – I felt the excitement of jumping in the truck, tracking in the dark, and then finding this magnificent lion! All of my favorite things to do when at Londoz. Thank you for sharing!

Arden Zalman
Guest

Your eloquent description of your adventure increased my heart rate a bit. Always fun & games in the bush. Thank you.

MJ
Guest

Wow, how fortunate for you to have seen Matimba Hairy Belly.. We will miss seeing him on WildEarth Safari Drive on Djuma & Arathusa. I think these boys are smart moving away and not taking on the 5 B-boys. Hope they stay safe and give you many wonderful visits with them.

Ann Seagle
Guest

Great blog. Loved it. Thanks so much. Ann Seagle

S.w. Tsang
Guest

how exciting ! good thing the other males were not around. hate to see any fight between lions or leopards. no good ending.

Blair S
Guest

Are the reports I have heard of Matimbas chasing the Majingis on Londolozi accurate?

James Tyrrell

Hi Blair,
Not that I have heard.
I’ll investigate, but that report is false as far as I know.
James

Blair S
Guest

Thanks James figured they were.

Ghille
Guest

I do not blame the Matimbas for leaving…the Birmingham Boys are just too much for them to handle. Hairy and Ginger should give you many wonderful views! You will recognize Ginger because he has a poorly healed injury to his front foot! It happened way back in January and never quite healed smoothly..he sometimes still limps a bit on that foot.

Kevin
Guest

Hi James,
thanks for this update, i always read that the Matimba was a coalition of 6 Lions, I now read on your post that there is only 2 of them did i miss something 🙁
Can you please update us on this one.
Thanks to share your amazing work with us
Kevin

James Tyrrell

Hi Kevin,

You are correct in thinking the Matimbas are a coalition of six. However, as does regularly happen with big coalitions, they have split up. Only two of them are resident in the Sabi Sands while the other four stay north of us. I believe the northern Matimbas are a 3-1 split, with the single male staying with a pride in the Kruger, but I could well be mistaken.

Hope that helps.

Kevin
Guest

Hi James,
Thanks for this insight.
For those following the Londolozi Blog, this will remind us of the Big Mapogos boys, they too split up in 2-4, and we all know the ending story. Do you know, or is it possible to know, whether Ginger and Hairy are the younger ones in this coalition of 6? We’ve been waiting for the Matimba to be here for more than 3 years … I think they already passed their prime but looking forward to see these great boys grace Londolozi.
Kevin from Mauritius

James Tyrrell

Kevin I’m afraid I am not sure of the respective ages of the various males in the coalition. I believe they fist showed up in the Manyeleti Reserve in late 2010, but don’t know too much more. Perhaps one of the lodges from the north might have some more info.
James

Christian Santiago
Guest

Hi James,

I have only recently found out about the Mapogos, and after knowing about them I simply wanted to find out more specially about the fate of all the Sabi Sand lions.
Its sad that i didnt learn about the Mapogos when they were at their prime but even if they are gone now, im drawn to the events that are currently unfolding in the Sabi Sands.
I appreciate the effort that all of you put in following all of these lions and most importantly, not interfering in the events that happen even if it is a favorite lion being killed or injured or dying of hunger. Thanks again and hope to read more updates.

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