The constantly evolving interrelationships between lion prides and wandering males is the cause for continued use of the term “lion dynamics” as that is exactly what all lions in the wild are in relation to one another, dynamic. Emotional attachments naturally develop when seeing certain lions more frequently than others and (unfortunately for us) their fate is accepted unwaveringly.

tailless, aug 14, SC

August 2014: The more recent Tailless female of the Tsalala Pride, who succeeded her late mother in 2013 (who ironically also had lost her tail to hyenas in a separate incident). Both lionesses are reputable for their large size, courage and leadership.

The arrival of the currently resident and locally dominant Matimba males a year ago, sent most of the long established prides into chaos, splitting up several of them into what we still consider breakaway prides of sub-adults. Such breakaways have previously been observed and documented; most notably the current Mhangeni pride which was an initial breakaway from the famous Tsalala pride in 2010 with the arrival of the Majingilane males and their brutal take over of the previous Mapogo coalition. Currently, subsequent breakaways are happening and have been discussed on this blog, and each smaller pride’s future is still unknown.

However, with the Matimba males’ newfound presence, there was a split in the Tsalala pride nearly a year ago, one in which I had little hope. The powerful and experienced Tailless female of the Tsalala pride split from her sister and the last remaining young lioness by leaving the pride’s rightful territory and taking the four young sub-adults with her in an attempt to protect them from the new non-paternal Matimba males.

A bold move indeed, with four growing lions to feed and care for all alone in a region littered with established prides and challenging coalitions; the odds were certainly against them.

tsalala, buffalo hunt, feb 15, SC

February 2015 prior to the Matimba males’ arrival, when the pride consisted of two lionesses, a surviving younger lioness and the four sub-adults. Here, the Tailless female leads the others into a daring buffalo hunt.

tsalala, SC

September 2015 during the arrival of the Matimba males, the Tailless female (left) often led the pride far and wide to escape the new males’ grasp but could not find adequate territory elsewhere. The four sub-adults were still young and under threat from the new Matimba males.

The familiar Tailless female had long been known as a strong and courageous hunter and seemed to lead the Tsalala pride for several years since the death of her mother. And so to see her disappear into unexplored territory with the responsibility of four young lions was fascinating, but not only their fate was to be tested, but that too of the two lionesses she left behind.

Their initial breakaway and absence was fast and somewhat discrete, but soon there were reports of them starting to find their footing in the northern areas of the Sabi Sands. With many surrounding prides and even more coalitions to avoid, the Tailless female moved the four sub-adults constantly throughout the Sabi Sands and eventually beyond its northern and eastern boundaries into the Manyalethi concession and even into the Kruger National Park. With no lionesses to help the Tailless female hunt, the sub-adults were forced to learn fast and start taking part in pulling down large prey with their leader (especially as three of the four sub-adults were high-quantity demanding males). The nomadic lifestyle was their only option, but they had a powerful warrior holding the reigns.

As the absence of the Tailless female grew longer and longer and it was only through other reserves’ reports that we could know her rough whereabouts, and at least her survival, but the aura around her spirit never died. Stories of the wise Tailless female and her daring, selfless attempt to secure the pride’s succession were stubbornly told by rangers and trackers at any opportunity, but still I feared their inevitable overpowering and death away from home. I thought the task would be too great.

The first time that we saw the Tailless female back on Londolozi after the split from the pride was in late December 2015 and three of the sub-adults were still with her. It was only one of the young males which was missing and another had awful bite marks to his lower back and looked too mangled to continue; a sure sign they had encountered more mature males and were lucky to be alive.

tsalala breakaway, dec 15, SC

December 2015 and what a sight. The Tailless female leads three of the sub-adults through Londolozi and out again, in a seemingly stressed and exhausted state as they avoided prides and coalitions alike. One young male is missing, and another (left) is badly injured.

tsalala breakaway, dec 15, SC

December 2015, the injured sub-adult showing signs of malnutrition. Not many believed this young lion could survive under the circumstances.

Despite the clearly complex circumstances, I was ecstatic to see her alive and well and impressed she seemingly managed to keep three of the four sub-adultswith her until then. I hoped it was time to rejoin the Tsalala lionesses as a full pride again but that was not the case. After several days they were gone again, and only ever seen on Londolozi once more… Until now.

tsalala tailless, SC, tsalala breakaway

September 2016, my first view of the Tailless female this year, and what a sight for sore eyes. She looks as healthy as ever.

To my total surprise one morning the Tailless female and her four (now much larger) sub-adults were found in the south-western open areas of Londolozi hunting buffalo, and all in great condition. It was a surreal feeling to watch her move through the dry Open Area’s grassland with unmistakable prowess as she did many years before. Not only that, but her support group of sub-adults were convincingly much more matured now and an integral part of the breakaway pride.

tsalala breakaway, SC

Scars on the lower back identify this young male as the badly injured one from eight months ago, and he seems to have made a full recovery.

A previously crippled young male now carried only scars and the start of a heavy mane, and the previously missing male was very much alive and present. All three males had a hint of maturity to them as they focussed on the cooperative hunting between the five lions; a sight usually seen only amongst hunting lionesses while sub-adults get bored and playful (especially the young males). It was evident that they had all learnt well and fast from the exceptional Tailless female in order to survive, and it now seems that their early maturity could do them well in the future.

tsalala breakaway, SC

Most impressive was the young lioness, at only three years old she seems to be already projecting leadership in the way she moves first with intention and direction. She has learnt from a great lioness.

tsalala breakaway, SC

The Tailless female’s iconic profile doesn’t look to be weathering any time soon.

Just as always, we cannot know the fate of this breakaway pride and can only await to see what unfolds. Will they rejoin the growing Tsalala pride now that the sub-adults are a year older and presumably no longer threatened by the dominant Matimba males? If so, this could only be done by the Tailless female and sub-adult female as it is expected the three sub-adult males will begin their nomadic journey to full maturity. Or, with a seemingly un-aged Tailless female and a fast-learning and potentially leading young lioness, will the two establish their own territory and complete the process to becoming their own pride by reproducing with dominant males?

Either is possible, with countless opportunities in between. It is unbelievable enough that the Tailless female is still alive and so capable, and to have raised and prepared the four sub-adults so sufficiently it really is testament to why she has acquired legendary status for so long.

Filed under Lions Wildlife

About the Author

Sean Cresswell

Safari Guide

Sean is one of the humblest rangers you are likely to meet. Quietly going about his day, enriching the lives of the many guests he takes out into the bush, it is only when he posts a Week in Pictures or writes an ...

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on The Unfinished Tale of the Tailless Female

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I think last month or 2 months ago they went to idube and met their fathers and stay for a couple of weeks


Great blog! By the missing male do you refer to this boy? I am glad to see he’s fully recovered and strong!


thank u . so happy to know this tailess warrior and her adopted kids are still alive and striving.

Leslie Backus

I know you don’t name individual female lions but when I read about the tailless female from now on I am going to think of her as”Sage” because she has such great wisdom, judgement, and experience.

MJ Bradley

She is one amazing lioness! I hope she does rejoin the Tsalala pride it would be much easier for her in the future. She sure doesn’t look her 14 yrs.

Jill Larone

Beautiful, strong Tailless female — she is the ultimate protector. I hope she is home on Londolozi to stay now, but feel sadness that the three sub-adult males will not be able to remain as well. They have all learnt well from her and I’m hoping they will all have a long life ahead.

Cynthia House

What a wonderful uplifting and positive story about these lions, thank you.

Debbie and Frank Kohlenstein

Thanks for the well written piece about the tailless female and the sub adults with her. Our friends remembered her and were excited to hear of the sighting. Thank you, Sean, for transporting us back to the special place called Londolozi.




This is by far my most favorite lion! I was there in May, 2014, when all 4 cubs were just months old. She protected them like they were her own. She is such a confidant individual and accomplished hunter, no other lion could have done what she did with those 4 cubs!!

Dipti Pandey

My husband and I were there at the end of November 2015. We heard all about her and the unique hunting abilities of the Tsalala pride from our wonderful ranger Dave Strachan. I had such a strong desire to see her while I was there but because of the pride split she and the sub adults had not been seen in Londolozi for two months. I gave up all hope of seeing her … then lo and behold! one morning Dave got a call that two members of the Tsalala pride had been spotted. We raced to see if she was one of them and sure enough she was just lying there on an outcrop with the inured male. She is truly a magnificent lioness! I have a picture of her hanging in my study and every time I look up from the computer I see her …she teaches me resilience.


Awesome write up, Sean! Any chance you saw the Majingilane’s near the Tsalala breakaway pride? Specifically, Scarnose and Hipscar? All 4 Majingilane ventured east about 10 days ago and only Darkmane and Goldmane have been viewed back in the West now. Just wondering if Scarnose and Hipscar bumped into the breakaway pride and were with them for a few days? Thank you and take care!

Sean Cresswell

Thanks Dan, glad you enjoyed it. No we did not see any of the 4 Majingilane males near the Tsalala or the Tsalala breakaway prides. There were two Majingilane males feeding on a buffalo carcass and also spending time with the Mhangeni pride and then Othawa pride in Singita recently. That is about as far east as they ventured, but I’m sure were still in earshot for the Tsalala breakaways. Keep well!

Bev Goodlace

Such wonderful news Sean. Thank you for another fantastic blog. Hope to catch up with Tailless and the four young males in December.


Thank you for info! Looking forward to the next blog, Cheers!

Catherine Millar

Thank you for a wonderful story! We saw the tailless female and her youngsters in the spring of 2014. She was quite impressive then. Her children were just fat, fuzzy cubs. They have all proven to be a powerful family. I look forward to hearing more.

Marinda Drake

After reading this I understand the breakaway saga better. Was never sure how it happened. Is it the sub adult female that got killed the end of last year?

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