Three mornings ago we bumped into the non-injured Matshipiri male and followed him for 100 metres through the chilly dawn until he lay down in a clearing, looking about him. His face bore many cuts and gashes, and on his spine was a fresh puncture wound, with a thin trickle of blood running from it down his flank. Ranger John Mohaud was joining us in the sighting, and we could see his vehicle approaching, when suddenly his urgent voice came over the radio “There are two more males here approaching rapidly!”

Looking towards John’s Land Rover, we suddenly saw the shape of a young male lion emerge from the bushes, and then a second, both moving quickly with heads down, clearly on the scent trail of the Matshipiri male.

His face scarred up, the Matshipiri male who was chased lies down only moments before the two Avoca males burst out of the bushes in the background in pursuit. Photograph by Vedant Thite

Needless to say heart rates spiked, but none more so than that of the Matshipiri male, whose head suddenly snapped round as he heard the other males footfalls, and then took off, running for his life. Seeing him flee, the two other males, by now identified as the Avoca young males, immediately gave chase. Luckily we were in relatively open country, which allowed us to follow the lions on a crazy ride as they ran at high speed through a succession of clearings towards the Londolozi airstrip. The two young Avoca males were roaring as they went, but the Matshipiri male remained silent, with only escape on his mind. His saving grace came on the far side of the airstrip, where a thick band of vegetation a couple of hundred metres wide lay between the next clearing. With visibility far reduced, the pursuing Avoca males lost sight of the Matshipiri male, who cut west out of the thicket, while his chasers, having lost sight of him, emerged about 20 seconds later, but continued on the same north-west trajectory they had been following.

Moving at a trot, one of the Avoca coalition glances towards our vehicle while in pursuit of the Matshipiri male. Photograph by Vedant Thite

Camp staff had a loud awakening as the Avoca males continued to bellow as they swept past the camp access roads, just as the sun began to peer over the horizon, but of the fleeing Matshipiri male there was no more sign. The Avoca males continued to roar intermittently as they tried to find his scent trail, but as an hour passed they eventually gave up and fell asleep next to a local waterhole.

One of the Avoca males scent-marks while he roars, a sure sign of territorial intent. Photograph by Vedant Thite

Discussions back at camp revolved around the chase, and how lucky it was that it hadn’t been the Matshipiri male with the broken leg that the Avoca males had found, else he may well have been killed, being unable to run.

Ranger Greg Pingo, returning late from drive, had more news. During the early parts of the chase that morning, the Avoca and Matshipiri males had run past a big waterhole not too far from the airstrip. What no one had noticed however, being so fixated on the running lions, was that right next to the waterhole, lying in one of the inlets, was the other Matshipiri male, the one with the broken leg. He must have been there for two days, since the Ntsevu lionesses had killed a young giraffe close by and he had joined them to feed on it. With that having been his only decent meal in goodness-knows how long, he was in a badly emaciated condition, and in no condition to get in a fight with rival males. No wonder he kept quiet as his brother ran by.
This was by no means the end of the story though. Realising that there was a good chance that the Avoca males might find the injured Matshipiri male that evening, Greg and Alistair Smith returned to sit with the younger coalition after dinner. The two lions got up and began retracing their steps, and as expected, it wasn’t long before they caught the scent of the injured Matshipiri male, and had found him within a few minutes. Needless to say, Greg and Alistair expected fireworks, but nothing like that happened. Instead of rushing in to finish him off, the Avoca males simply circled him at a distance, scent marking every bush and tree, but doing nothing to initiate a physical conflict. The Matshipiri male, injured and helpless, simply lay there growling. Unable to run off or rush in to attack, he simply had to await his fate.

Interestingly, the two young males, after scent-marking, simply walked away.

Why would two male lions, apparently intent on taking over the territory, leave their seemingly defenceless victim alone? Is it a case of not kicking a man when he’s down? Did the fact that the Matshipiri male no longer represented a threat to them meant that they weren’t interested anymore? As I understand it from Greg and Al, the injured male had his vulnerable rear end backed up into a bush, meaning the Avoca males could only attack his front, which could still have been very dangerous for them. The risk of attacking an already severely injured foe would not have been worth it. Just how down-and-out the Avoca males could sense the Matshipiri male to be no one can say for sure, but I imagine they would have had a fair idea from his emaciated condition. Also, with him not being able to run, the chase response would not have been triggered in the antagonists, so they contented themselves with merely scent-marking, establishing their dominance in front of him, then roaring as they moved off.

With lions it is sometimes simply a numbers game; without his brother, the uninjured Matshipiri would have felt far more vulnerable, and his instinctive flight (on a number of occasions buy now) would trigger an automatic chase response in the Avoca young males. It would have been interesting to see what would have happened had the Avoca males arrived two months ago, before one of the Matshipiris broke his leg. As a pair of larger male lions, I don’t think the Matshipiri males would have had much trouble in dealing with this new threat. This is a moot point though, since what has happened has happened, and the Matshipiri coalition seems to be losing their hold, although nothing has been concluded.

The healthier of the two Matshipiri males, bellowing on the morning that he first encountered the two Avoca young males.

The really fascinating thing in this situation for me is the youth of the Avoca young males; only having been independent since last year, I would never have imagined two males with such short manes to have fancied their chances of taking over a territory. They have obviously been able to establish how weakened the Matshipiri males are with the broken-leg male effectively hors de combat.

The sparse manes on the young Avoca males are clearly indicative of their youth.

I remember when the Majingilane moved off Londolozi a few years ago; there was a succession of coalitions of two that moved in and were then driven off again by the next big males to come along. The Styx males were supplanted by the Fourways males who were soon ousted by the Matshipiri males, who tended to stay south with the Sparta pride (more on them in a blog next week), leaving space for the Matimba males to move in from the north.
It is quite possible that these young Avoca males, if they do succeed in either killing or driving off the Matshipiri pair, may well be ousted in the not-too-distant future by an older and bigger coalition that wanders in from the Kruger Park.

Three of the massive Birmingham males were seen in our northern areas yesterday morning, and the rumours of the Mantimahle males continue to loom from the south.

I imagine that we’re in for some interesting times, which most likely doesn’t bode well for any cubs currently on Londolozi.

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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24 Comments

on Is There Honour Between Lions?

Join the conversationJoin the conversation

Vaseem Baig
Guest

James, your blog is extremely interesting especially the part of Avoca boys interacting with the injured Matshipri. This lion dynamics again puts doubts in anyone’s mind about lion behavior and shatters the stereotype thinking!! I am grateful to Londolozia and you to bring such information about lions in a beautiful manner that makes my day.

Dipti Pandey
Guest

How old are the Avoca males? Are they similar in age to the Tsalala breakaway males? If yes, then the behavior of the two Avoca males vs the three Tasala breakaway males is so interesting..the two clearly feel confident enough to try to establish territory vs the three who are living a nomadic existence constantly having to evade bigger lions.

James Tyrrell

Hi Dipti,
As I understand it, they are around 4 years old, born in early 2013, which makes them a few months older than the Tsalala young males…
It’s very interesting to see the difference in lifestyles/approaches between the two coalitions. hHo knows what the Tsalala young males will be doing in the next year or so?
Regards

Norberto Dellê
Guest

That was an amazing report on the events that I heard about a few days ago. Thank you James. Keep the good work.

Lynne
Guest

Oh dear what drama ! So exciting but also a bit sad ! Thanks for the interesting saga so far.

Claire
Guest

Oh my gosh, what a breath-taking situation to witness. I’ve been enthralled by the lion dynamics of late! Thank you for sharing the story with us! I’ve been to Londolozi twice, and hope to return again in 2018. I will bring my son this time. I shared the “How Trees Heal People” article with my son, as he is an avid tree-climber and lover of all things wild. Your love of the ways of the Earth create others like you, so thank you for continuing to share your experiences.

Murtaza S
Guest

As always, great article James!

Cam
Guest

Any idea of where the matimba boys are

James Tyrrell

Hi Cam,
No idea, unfortunately.
Regards

Mike D
Guest

I guess these two young males have not developed that killer instinct that comes with age and experience from a hard life wandering the bush. Thankfully they did not attack the injured lion but it seems they got their point across to him. With so many powerful coalitions in the area it seems the rumble in the jungle is inevitable. Get your popcorn ready. Can’t wait for the follow ups.

Mike ryan
Guest

Great blog James Matimbas last seen at Tintswalo Safari Lodge at the end of May

Pete Thorpe

Thanks for the update Mike!

Anbarasan
Guest

sad for the coalition which has sent both majingis and matimbas packing.
but how did the injury happen in the first place to that male…?

Pete Thorpe

Hi Anbarasan,
We aren’t sure. Most likely he caught it in a hole while running, as it’s the kind of injury that looks like it resulted from a severe twist. There didn’t look to be any surface injuries that might have indicated a kick from a large animal like a giraffe, but it’s impossible to say for sure!
Regards

Cam
Guest

James
Do you think that the Birmingham boys will push further south to claim more territory or are they happy with what they have at the moment surely they will run SABI in the near future

Nelson Simpson
Guest

James,, The two Matimba Males are dominant over Mothlawareng and red road pride in the North. I doubt now they will come back to Londolozi.

Pete Thorpe

Thanks Nelson,
Can you confirm these are the same to Matimba males; the one with the ginger mane and the dark-maned male with the Hair on his belly?

Dipti Pandey
Guest

Thanks James,
I would love nothing more than to see the three Tsalala in their prime. I have followed that breakaway pride for a while now and they have a special place in my heart..not to say several of their pictures that hang in my house. Though it is the bush so no matter what I wish like you said we never know 🙂

Denine Mishoe
Guest

I assume, hopefully correct, that you photograph, follow and blog about these lions because you also care about wildlife (big cats)? Do you ever do the humane thing and, every once in awhile, help them? I’m specifically referring to the lion with the broken leg. Since you stated that you knew where he was hiding for days and when he’d last eaten (…With that having been his only decent meal in goodness-knows how long, he was in a badly emaciated condition) do you ever have compassion and lend a helping hand to those in need? I’m not saying tranquilize him and rush the lion to the exotic animal vet to reset his leg (which is what my heart would have screamed that I do), but do you think to even help by providing him with sustenance while he recovers (if he ever does) the use of his leg? Please don’t come back with… I don’t want to upset the balance of nature or survivor of the fittest and such… because helping an animal in need occasionally is never going to upset the balance of anything. It’s just called being a good and caring steward of this Earth and doing go towards other species when possible. I found your article interesting but I don’t want to continue to read your blogs if I know now that you don’t ever help these magnificent creatures when you can.

Pete Thorpe

Hi Denine,
Thanks you for your comments.
Almost every caring and responsible wildlife lodge has a non-intervention policy, as one can never be sure what the repercussions will be should we take some sort of action. Should we take immediate steps to save this lion, he could kill the Nkoveni female leopard next week, which would result in the death of her still-dependent cubs. We can’t predict what knock-on effects our actions might bring about.
What if one of the Avoca males also now became injured? Should we aid his recovery, only so that the two males can fight it out again at a later date?
As difficult as it can be to observe Nature at its most raw, as neutral observers that is what we are obliged to do; remain neutral. What we, as well as the many other conservation organisations that comprise this great wilderness strive to do is to preserve the ecosystem in as natural a state as possible, so that the systems and processes that have been in place for millenia can continue to run their course as though we are not here, nor ever were.
The death or indeed suffering of a magnificent animal saddens us too, but as true conservationists, we have to let the ecosystem govern itself.
We will continue to observe this male’s condition and report on it, but you are welcome to discontinue your following of the blog if upsets you.
Kind regards

Chris
Guest

Where are the Matimbas?

James Tyrrell

Hi Chris,
Don’t know. Lots of conflicting reports.
Regards

Kenneth Tobin
Guest

WHY DO PEOPLE THINK THE MATIMBAS CONTROL 2 PRIDES UP NORTH ? THEY ARE NOAMADS. I HAVE NOT READ A SINGLE THING SAYING THEY TOOK OVER PRIDES AFTER LEAVING SABI SANDS. NOMADS

Callum Evans

Now that’s an encounter I would have loved to see!!

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