About two weeks Amy asked for a blog on an epic lion of Londolozi. My reply was flippant and immediate: “Aren’t all lions that have somehow scrambled through to adulthood epic?”. “Just write the blog” she said before huffing off to the Londolozi Creative Hub.

So I’ve been scratching my head and wracking the memory banks for that one lion that made me think ‘hell, you’re an amazing, beat-all-the-odds-lion.’ It’s not so simple. First up the memory just isn’t that good and a lot of the candidates have faded into the background of been-here-and-eaten-a-wildebeest-or-two kind of lions. There is the obvious list of usual suspects: the tailless lioness of the Tsalala Pride and some of her enduring offspring, the Mapogo and the Majingilane. All utterly magnificent, recognisable and supremely dominant throughout their prime years. But too much has been said and often repeated to cover them again.

So I’ll try and narrow it down a little to find the Nobel Prize winner.

The Males. Well haven’t there just been so many of them? Since 2004 we’ve had this relentless succession of testosterone that has arrived, dominated and ultimately been eaten or chased off of Londolozi. When I first got here, the 5 Sparta Males were a spent force and closing off on a remarkable dominance of the area that saw prides thrive and grow under the security of a big and determined coalition. The Sparta Pride had 17 lions, the Castleton Pride 22, the Xmobanyana Pride 11, the Tsalala Pride 3 and the Styx 14. Since then we’ve had more males than South Africa has had Finance Ministers. First came the two Marthly Males and then the Kruger Male followed rapidly by the Shaws Males, the Mapogo, the Majingilane, the Fourways Males, the Styx Males, the Matshipiri Males and now the 2 Matimba Males, with the Birmingham Brothers lurking on the horizon like a December thunderstorm (in other words; we aren’t sure if they’ll actually come.) 11 years and so much turnover. It’s no wonder that most of our lion prides have been whittled away to a few breeding lionesses here and there and that the dynamic is fractured and teetering on the brink of disaster. I don’t mean to be gloomy but we do need a golden period here at Londolozi where lionesses are left in peace to raise cubs and young male lions are left in no doubt that this is not the place to seek their fortune and try their luck. Maybe the Birmingham Males – who knows?

They may well be 'over the hill', but they are still incredible male lions. Huge specimens and a tribute to the strength and resilience required to survive for such a long time- Adam Bannister

The last two members of the mighty Mapogo coalition – “Makhulu” and “Pretty Boy”. Photograph by Adam Bannister

Why the Male lion turnover? There is a theory that Bovine tuberculosis is responsible for the premature decline in condition of Male lions and that instead of staying in their prime and possibly living to 13 and 14 (and remaining dominant and providing a few extra years for lionesses to raise their young) they instead become targets for younger male lion coalitions much earlier and lose their territories and lionesses at vulnerable periods for the stability of the pride. Theories aside it could just be genetics at play and we are just witnessing a battle of DNA that will eventually crown a winner take all and we’ll get some stability eventually. 

Majingi_Patrol

Three of the four Majingilane on patrol during the heyday of their reign over Londolozi. Photograph by James Tyrrell

The lionesses have had their work cut out for them and those that have survived this Male Lion battleground and raised cubs to boot deserve all the accolades. There is a parallel in the human world isn’t there? That the Tsalala Pride managed to eke out the 4 Mhangeni females and the young female currently with the pride is phenomenal. Don’t forget that the Sparta Pride have 2 females that were born in 2007 during the male lion madness and survived it all. I hope it gets easier for all of them but somehow I don’t think being a lion is easy regardless of the circumstances.

Sparta Face

Two Sparta lionesses prepare to hunt Nyala. Photograph by James Tyrrell

I’ve fudged the answer so far but I’m going to reminisce about the Shaws males anyway. This was initially a group of 5 male lions that were born in the late nineties and raised in the western sector of the Sabi Sands before leaving their natal area and settling in the southern portions of Mala Mala. Our first sighting of them was in 2006 when 3 of them (the other 2 had died) were feeding off an elephant that had died of natural causes close to our southern boundary. One of them was one-eyed, limping and gaunt and would soon disappear leaving just two males to tackle the problem of the taking of Londolozi. By the end of 2006 they were dominant here, having dispatched the Kruger Male and taken over both the Sparta and Styx Prides and having some contact with the Tsalala Pride.

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The Majingilane take on an intruder. Photograph by Lucien Beaumont

At the beginning of May 2007, the Sparta lionesses gave birth to 10 cubs in the Xidulu drainage line but disaster struck shortly after when the males, who had been eating a still-born elephant calf, went for a drink at Mvubu Dam. One of them was caught and killed by a crocodile and though we never actually witnessed the capture it was still surreal to watch a crocodile nudging the carcass of a full grown male lion around the dam. The implications of having a coalition suddenly reduced to 1 were immediately apparent as the Mapogo arrived in full force, and two of them in particular took territory across Londolozi and set to work trying to find the lone Shaws male, and dispatch the new cubs in the Styx and Sparta Prides.

Shaws-Male-by-Lee-Ann-Heringer-2

The Shaws male rests with the Sparta pride. Photograph by Lee Ann Heringer

Remarkably the Shaws male would survive the attentions of the Mapogo through until January 2010 when he was euthanized in poor condition in Mala Mala. The 2 adult Sparta Females at present are his cubs and we believe he was able to leave his indelible mark on the Styx Pride as well. Staying on the run for 3 years was a quite brilliant feat of survival against the odds and having some surviving genetics to boast about isn’t too bad either in an era when infanticide was so common place.

I guess that has to be pretty epic…

Written by Tom Imrie

Filed under Lions 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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11 Comments

on In Search of Remarkable Lions

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marinda drake
Guest

Interesting history Tom. Great blog.

Rosie
Guest

Was this the male also known as the Rollercoaster Male further north ? Or have I got mixed up again lol ?

vaseem baig
Guest

hi! Tom,

this blog indeed is great and was fascinating to read about the Shaws males. i think it is undoubtedly difficult task given to single out epic lion among such an array of sabisand lions, but you have done a fantastic job.

enjoyed every bit of information, keep it up and thank you,

vaseem

Linda de Muelenaere
Guest

It is truly refreshing reading a blog like this. Why. .? It has all the facts, has the history without the gore and overstated death scenes of lion fighting lion or coalition of lions. The sadness and grief caused me by these graphic deaths of the Lions and then the thoughtfulness of showing the pictures and the film of the lions being killed by other…… Leaving him with a damaged spine, his genetailia missing , unable to roar. Really is all that necessary. Thank you for this delightful walk down memory lane.

Steve Gordon
Guest

Epic blog Tom!

Fascinating compendium of the recent history of Londolozi Lions.

Jill Grady
Guest

You’ve seen a lot of lion history while at Londolozi Tom, and I loved hearing you tell about the many coalitions that have ruled there throughout the years. The Shaws male certainly sounds like he was a remarkable lion and I think his strength and determination to survive lives on in the Sparta lionesses.

KK
Guest

Between the matshipiri males and the Matimba males, who is dominant ?

Norberto
Guest

This kind of post is my favorite. Telling the history of lions of Londolozi, tracing back more than 10, 15 years. It’s just awesome.

Brian C
Guest

I like these posts also. The history of the lions and leopards is important and should not be forgotten. The lions are much more confusing to me. It was good to learn that 2 of the current Sparta lionesses are daughters of the Shaws male.

Ossi Robertson Köchli
Guest

Dear Tom
We are missing you! When do show as the lions again and when do you visit us?
Ossi and Lea

Mishal
Guest

Im a bit late but I have to say this is the best londolozi blog entry ever written you have covered so much and written so well and the lion you settled upon was truly epic .You have highlighted the struggles of the lionesses so well ,I love that you didnt go with the usual suspects the mapogos majingilanes etc also the mention of the constantly changing lion dynamics and its effect on lion population no blog piece ever written has captured the effects of the lion warfare the way you have and it is not even filled with gore .The best part is how you have connected everything in the end with the lion you have chosen as being remarkable .A Well written thoughtful blog and a perfect tribute to a great lion

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