One of the many privileges of living and working in the bush is the chance we have to follow the life stories of different animals. One of the more complex and therefore more fascinating stories to follow is that of the local lion population and how all the different individuals, prides and coalitions interact with one another. Sometimes you join the constantly evolving story halfway through and are immediately enthralled by what a particular pride has gone through and other times you join a story right at the beginning as you witness newborn lion cubs at the start of their tumultuous journey.

The Tsalala Breakaway Pride has a story more complex than most. Towards the end of 2015 the Tailless Female split from her sister and her sister’s daughter, and took with her the four sub-adults from the pride in what we can only speculate was an attempt to protect them from the recently arrived Matimba Males, who at that time were looking to establish themselves in the area as the dominant coalition. Not being fathered by the two Matimba Males would have meant that the four sub-adults, which included three young males and one young female, would have had a strong chance of being killed. What made this all that more incredible was the fact that her actions were very similar to that of her own mother, which Amy Attenborough wrote about in her post a few days back.

The year that followed would have been an incredibly tough one for the Tailless female and the four sub-adults as we followed their movements through second-hand reports from the reserves around us. She made a brief appearance back on Londolozi during that time and the pride did not look to be in very good shape. They were only seen for a day or two and then were gone again leaving us to speculate their fate. It was towards the end of last year that they made a more permanent return to Londolozi and it was exciting to see that all five of them were still alive and that the sub-adults had grown up considerably.

The sub adults of the Tsalala Breakaway pride lie up on a termite mound a couple of months ago on one of their brief forays onto Londolozi. Photograph by James Souchon

During the months that followed they spent the majority of their time moving all over the reserve. Often we would see just the three young males by themselves, a sure sign of their continued progression towards maturity and independence. Normally they would have already been ousted into their nomadic years, which is the period of time between independence and territorial dominance, but have enjoyed an extended time with the pride owing to the lack of big males in the area. They will need to get a lot bigger before being able to properly compete with territorial males, which usually happens only after 5 years of age. This may even see them being forced out again and bouncing between territories of other dominant male lions for another year or two before they can successfully defend a territory of their own.

We started to see a lot more of this pride from the beginning of this year and it was quite evident that the young males were getting bigger judging by the size of their manes. Photograph by Souchon


One of the more recent pictures of the young males as they return from a morning of hunting rutting impala. Photograph by James Souchon

Around the end of last year, we started to notice that the Tailless female was showing signs that she might be pregnant. With much excitement at the prospect of new lion cubs on the reserve and being able to witness the next chapter in the story of this dynamic lioness we tracked her movements with a little more fervor.

We began to see her spending more and more time in the vicinity of Ximpalapala Koppie in the northern parts of the reserve. Often we would see her tracks heading up to the koppie itself. With so many nooks and crannies on this boulder-strewn outcrop it would make the perfect den site and the excitement mounted. In the weeks that followed we saw the three young males as well as the other young female join up in the area and now the entire Tsalala Breakaway Pride was being seen on regular occasions around Ximpalapala Koppie.

At least one vehicle would head out towards the koppie every game drive in search of these lions and on arrival at the koppie the binoculars would come out to help scour every inch of the rocky outcrop in search of the lion cubs. We knew the Tailless female had given birth because we could see suckle marks and signs of lactation on her teats each time she came down from the koppie on a hunting excursion.

The Tailless Female returning back to Ximpalapala Koppie where her two cubs were hidden somewhere high up amongst the boulders. Notice the suckle marks around her teats. Photograph by Irene Nathanson

Eventually about three weeks ago one lucky vehicle spotted two little heads poking up over the boulders at the top of the koppie as they heard their mother returning to the den site. A couple of subsequent sightings have confirmed that there are two cubs in the litter and we estimate them to be about 6 weeks old.

Well done to Irene who managed to capture this picture of the two cubs before they disappeared out of sight. You can tell they are still very young by all the black spots on their forehead and it may still be sometime before they leave the safety of their den site. Photograph by Irene Nathanson

This begs the question as to who the fathers of these cubs may be as this will be of vital importance to their survival going forward. About five months ago, which is when these cubs would have been conceived, the two Matimba Males were being seen regularly in the same area that the Tailless female was, so it’s most likely that they are the fathers, but we also can’t rule out the possibility that it may be one of the Matshipiri Males or even one of the Majingilane Males as fathers due to the distance and area that the Tailless female had moved through during that time.

The two Matimba Males have been conspicuous by their absence over the last few months as reports of them much further to our north surfaced. However, there have been recent developments in the last week which has seen the lighter maned Matimba Male returning to Londolozi in this last week with reports of the darker maned Matimba being not too far away as well.

With Ximpalapala Koppie lying roughly on the boundary between the territories of the Majingilane Males and the recently returned Matimba Males it will be interesting to see in which direction the Tailless female takes her cubs when it comes time to leave the den site.

There was speculation at first that the Tailless female and the young female may rejoin the Tsalala Pride but despite being in relative close proximity over the last few months this does not seem to be the case. With the arrival of these new cubs to the Tailless female it would seem that it may be the first step in establishing a new pride and territory, together with the young female, of their own.

Will the return of the Matimba Males spark the dispersal of the three young males of the Tsalala Breakaway Pride as they continue their journey to maturity? How will the Matimba Males react if they come across the Tailless female and her new cubs? Is it time for the young female to mate and have cubs of her own?

The young female of the Tsalala Breakaway leads the Tailless Female after returning from hunting. As she gets close to four years of age we can’t help but wonder which one of the dominant male coalitions in the area she will mate with. Photograph by James Souchon

Even with mounting confidence and great skill in hunting large animals like buffalo the three young males still lack the experience of the dominant coalitions in the area like the Matimba and Majingilane Males. It’s only a matter of time before they are forced to disperse and find a territory of their own but the fact that there are three of them together bodes well for their chances of survival. Photograph by Irene Nathanson.

Regardless of all these questions and speculation there is no doubt that the story of the Tailless female will be told for years to come. She has held legendary status for quite some time now, and is still hunting effectively as she advances into the twilight of her years. The arrival of her new cubs is just another exciting chapter in a fascinating story that is still unraveling each day and all we can do is continue to tell it.





Filed under Wildlife

About the Author

James Souchon

Field Guide

James started his guiding career at the world-renowned Phinda Game Reserve, spending four years learning about and showing guests the wonder of the incredibly rich biodiversity that the Mapuataland area of South Africa has to offer. Having always wanted to guide in the ...

More stories by James


on Update on the Tsalala Breakaway Pride
    Mike ryan says:

    Thanks for the update really great to see the Matimbas back especially with other sites reporting their death. Solid reporting. Looking forward to the first pictures of the cubs

    Geri Potter says:

    So excited about this new turn of events….the Tsalalas have ALWAYS been my favorites!!

    Messifc says:

    Welcome back Matimbas. It was nice trip all over kruger.

    Lea says:

    Great blog James. The story of the tailless lioness’ life is truly remarkable. These two females are truly amazing. The lion dynamics is really fascinating. Thank you for sharing. May they all survive to carry on the legacy of these very brave lionesses.

    Dina says:

    Hi James ,
    glad to read you !By the way , have you seen these little cubs again we were lucky to photograph last time ??
    Keep well and we hope to see you later !

    James Souchon says:

    Hi Dina, yes they were part of the Mhangeni Pride and we have seen them. They are getting quite big now. Send my best to Guido. Hope to see you soon!

    Darlene Knott says:

    Fascinating to follow!

    Irene Nathanson says:

    I was so fortunate to be one of the first to witness and photograph these new cubs from the tailess tsalala thanks to the excellent tracking and persistence from Tracker Richard and Ranger James. Great story. I do hope they decide to make Londolozi their permanent home. I look forward to following their progress. Glad I got to witness part of this story.

    sau says:


    Mishal says:

    Thank you well written .Have the Mighty Matimbas reunited with their cubs and females in the core Taslala pride yet?Are there any pics of them .Thanks in advance

    James Souchon says:

    Hi Mishal, as far we know they have not. Will be sure do get some pictures if they do.

    Lynne says:

    So interesting & looking forward to the next episode.

    Mishal says:

    Have Tailless’s cubs been sexed yet ?

    James Souchon says:

    Hi Mishal, they have not yet as they are still very small we have only had long distance views of them

    Cheryl and Lee Brueckel says:

    To James Souchon. You were our ranger at Phinda a few years back. Recall the warthog kill in the grasslands when the leopard ran the warthog into the side of our vehicle? We sent the picture to you? We had been in Londolozi Tree Camp just before Phinda Vlei. Good luck at Londozi

    James Souchon says:

    Hi Cheryl and Lee, I still have that picture hanging on my wall! I hope you are both doing well. Are you planning another trip soon? Would be great to drive you again! Regards, James

    Aaron Aaron says:

    Love tailless Tsalala. Strong and brave lioness.

    Georgel says:

    Hi James! Great article.

    Few days ago this blog reported the presence of Majingilanes around the Tailless lioness den. Now suddenly you mention the Matimbas. Are the Matimbas really back to Londolozi?

    James Souchon says:

    Hi Georgel, in the last week we have had a few sightings of the lighter maned Matimba Male and only time will tell if it’s a permanent move back or not. The Dark maned Matimba has not been seen on Londolozi recently but there were reports of him to the North and East of our reserve. The Majingilane Males were around for a day or two before moving back west. Thanks for reading.

    Cynthia House says:

    I find the stories of the different prides so fascinating particularly their interaction with each other. What an inspiring lioness the tailless female is and her amazing story of survival is truly the stuff of legends. Thank you for your great blogs, I so look forward to reading them.

    car. and rob notter says:

    cant wait for your comments and pictures each time !!! to beautiful

    MJ Bradley says:

    I love hearing of the Tailless lioness and her band of merry youngsters.. What a wonderful mother she has been to these young lions.. I hope we have a few more years to enjoy her and her progeny. She is around 14 or 15 now isn’t she?

    James Souchon says:

    Hi MJ, Yes she is about 15 years old. She really is incredible.

    Odie says:

    Nice thanks

    GabriGLG says:

    Are Matimbas really back? Who has seen them?

    James Souchon says:

    Hi Gabri, there were a few sightings of the lighter maned Matimba Male a few days back.

    Diane says:

    My recent visit to Londolozi opened a new world for me with the interwoven stories of the lion families . I was brought to joyful tears as I witnessed the three males sleeping at the foot of the koppie where the cubs were last seen. I also was privy to spotting one of the Matimba lions stating undercover in the bush! I love following these lions now and look forward to more updates! Bless you all !

    Chris says:

    The MATIMBAS ARE BACK and that means the matshiphri males are in trouble. And I think that the matimbas will beat them and get back their territory and the Magheni breakaway females.

    Dina says:

    I will !I’m glad they are doing well !
    Warm regards to Cath

    Jill Larone says:

    Great update, James! The young males are becoming beautiful, strong adults, like their fathers. I first saw them as young cubs and I’m so happy to see them healthy and doing well. I hope the Tailless Female will be able to keep her cubs safe. It seems that her difficult days will continue for a while longer. I hope she will finally have some peaceful days ahead. The pictures are beautiful, thank you for sharing!

    Chris says:

    James souchon, has there been any new reports of the matimbas?

Join the conversationLeave a reply below

Your email will be kept private.

Connect with Londolozi

Follow Us


Sign up for our newsletter

Send this to friend