When the end comes for lions, it generally comes quickly.

Over the last two years, the fortunes of the Tsalala pride have been what we have come to expect from them; from down-and-out to new hope and then back again, with the peaks and troughs creating the kind of saga you couldn’t script. Upon the successful rearing of the Tailed female’s 2013 litter to independence, the pride entered into a new phase with the arrival of the Matimba males. Two new litters were born – a total of 5 cubs – and it seemed like the pride was going through a wonderful rebirth.

The lioness (centre), leads her pride over the Sand River, only a year ago. A lot has changed since then.

And then things went downhill.

The Matimba males moved out (for reasons we could never quite fathom), and the pride split once more, with the Tailless female breaking off with her 3-year-old niece, and the Tailed lioness staying with the 2011 lioness and their cubs. Both sets of lions criss-crossed a similar area, but despite the occasional meet-up, the rejoining we always anticipated and hoped for never materialised.

Over the next year, a series of setbacks hit the pride – both core and Breakaway parts – and we now find ourselves with an end-of-the-road, three-way split.

The Tailless female and her remaining cub are moving around by themselves, still apparently healthy, but alone.

The young lioness from the 2013 litter has been mating with one of the Birmingham males, and appears to be the last hope for the Tsalala name, as her mother, the old Tailed lioness, will probably be lost within the next 48 hours.

Skeletal and unrecognisable, the old Tailed lioness moves through her territory for what is more than likely the last time. Photograph by Nick Kleer.

Isolated from her pride for weeks now, the lioness has been losing condition steadily, and the sad reality is that the iconic duo of Tsalala sisters is about to lose its first member.

Born in 2002, these lionesses have been at the centre of Londolozi lion viewing for more than a decade-and-a-half. Seeing their pride endure the changing of the guard of males multiple times – Mapogo, Majingilane, Matimba, to name but a few – the two sisters have both survived to the same age as their mother, the original Tailless lioness, who died at age 15.
Having celebrated their own 15th birthday in December, the pair are by no means spring chickens, and the day on which we lost one of them was certainly going to come sooner rather than later.

The inevitability of death does in no way make it easier to bear however, and the lioness will leave behind a void that will not easily be filled.

I try and distance myself from the emotionality of difficult sightings, knowing that it’s a bad road to go down, but this morning was a tougher one than usual, as we sat quietly with the lioness, watching her draw slow, yet almost peaceful breaths.

Many “firsts” of mine in the bush have been with her and her sister; first kill, first discovery of a lion’s den-site, first lions climbing trees. I always advocate the non-attachment approach with wild animals, but this is a hard one to process, as I guess despite one’s best efforts, time itself makes for the inexorable development of an attachment.

Casting her eyes to the sky. I can’t begin to imagine how many photographs have been taken of this lioness over the last 15 years, and how many indelible memories she has made.

My last seven years spent watching her, week-in and week-out, are peppered with memories, far more than could fill a simple scrapbook.

She lies now in the shade of a Gardenia tree, next to a small pan that is surrounded by these same trees, the local name for which is Tsalala. It was this exact pan, and the original pride’s spending a lot of their time here, that gave them their name.

Without romanticising it too much, there is some solace in the thought that after fifteen years, with the inevitable end approaching, the old lioness has simply come home.

Filed under Lions 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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46 Comments

on The Ending of an Era: Tsalala Lioness Dying

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Lisa Dunlap

Beautiful sentiment, James.

Marinda Drake

Oh Janes. I feel so sad now. It is so difficult to see a favourite animal go.

Evelina Scali

I feel so sad… I hope a new era of cubs will arrive.. so cute…

Sherri Roberts

What beautiful words, for a beautiful lady. Thank you for that James. If she could talk, imagine the things that she could tell you. I hope that the other predators leave her be & let her pass peacefully. She will be sadly missed by everyone who she touched. I’ll say bye for now sweetheart & see you again in my dreams 😪💗💕
Once again, thank you James

Dan Deherder

Beautiful story. It is heartbreaking to hear, but she was a true legend of a lioness.

Jan-Erik Rottinghuis

Dear James,
your (always) thoughtful writing keeps the Londolozi experiences alive (for me it has been 10 years) and I remember seeing the Tsalala lioness when I was guided by Bennet and Alfie… I don’t believe, after all my Safari experiences across Africa, that it is a bad thing to get attached to specific animals, as it brings us closer to the realisation that we are all part of this amazing world that we need to share with them. (although humans do a particularly bad job in the sharing, I must add…)
Please, please keep writing your wonderful blogs as it is a joy to stay connected with your beautiful world and your broad and long experience makes it all the more memorable and interesting.
Thank you! Jan-Erik

Vivien Jones

I think it is sad that they always seem to die alone. 15 years you would think that one of the other lionesses would be with her knowing how close Pride’s are.

I would be very surprised if anyone could distance themselves from any wildlife especially being with them day in and day out and really why would you want to. The joy they bring you outweighs the hurt and sadness when they leave.

Michael and I are returning for our 3rd visit to Londolozi for our wedding anniversary and my birthday. Am so excited and just cannot wait to be there.

Gloria Brislin

Hard to see the old lioness in such a sad state.

Callum Evans

That is so sad. I really thought that the two prides would rejoin. The Tailed female looks in terrible condition, I’ve only seen one other photo that showed a lionese in that kind og condition and that was an old lioness in the Kalahari with porcupine quills in her legs! I’m really sad that it’s the end of an era. I suppose all prides have a natural lifespan, just like their members do.

Gillian Lacey

Very sad to see the poor condition of this lioness. I hope her passing is swift and peaceful

Wendy Macnicol

Hi there everyone. We have never physically been to Londolozi but we have for some time now looked forward each day to the articles on the people and animals at Londolozi. Nearly ALL my screensavers come from the lovely photos we receive. We are just so very sorry to hear about the dear old Tsalala lioness and see the latest sad picture of her. We just pray she went peacefully. What a story she has! What a legacy she has left. Wendy and Neil

Mary Shabbott

Heartbreaking to see. Bless her heart. Thank you for sharing with us.

Rhonda Oberto

I am so sorry for the loss of Tsalala lioness dying…. she will cross the Rainbow Bridge peacefully. We have lost 4 of our big cats in the past few months so I know your sadness. Chuffs & Hugs.

Tracie Ricketts

That was a beautiful eulogy for her James, down to the last word, Londolozi is very lucky to have you..

Kiki Aldonas

This absolutely breaks my heart. Thank you for this tribute.

Gemma Kemps

Oh this makes me so sad James. We got to see this amazing lion in May 2017 and reveled in how beautiful she was. It gives me great solace that she will die a natural death. Will her sister try to go back to the tailless pride in order to survive? Please keep us informed. Thank you for all your blogs.

Joanne Wadsworth

I know that death is inevitable, especially in the bush…..but this just breaks my heart! I can’t imagine how you must feel James watching her for so many years. The image if her emaciated made me gasp and my heart hurt even though she’s lead a full 15 year life. I can understand why detachment helps…..sometimes.

Iren Juppa

He needs some food! Very sad.

Christa Blessing

It is always so sad when some familiar animal has to leave us, whether in the wild or a pet. They are all creatures who we love. Getting emotional is quite normal I think. I hope that she has been able to go in peace.

Marlo

Hey I just started following lions and fell in love with them. I’ve learned so much reading old blogs on here thanks for all your hard work.

Gill Cederwall

Just so beautifully written. What an amazing legacy both her and her mom leave behind. Thank you for sharing. Xxx

Jill Larone

Beautifully written, James, and so heartbreaking to see how thin she is and that this beautiful, legendary Lioness is reaching the end of her journey. I feel such sadness, so I can only imagine how painful it must be for you, and the entire Londolozi family, to see the end drawing near for this beautiful lady. We will certainly not forget her.

Vicky

Well there you go, you made me cry at work. So sad. Even though you know to expect that anything could happen at any time, for these wonderful creatures to live to old age is a miracle and a testament to their abilities. As much as we dislike it, time marches on. Enjoy every moment while we can, and take wonderful memories with us. She, like others, will live on in our hearts and minds.

Judith Guffey

I will miss seeing her.

Wendy Hawkins

Oh my gosh this is sad & so beautifully written James, thank you for showing us pictures of her over the years. Rest peacefully beautiful lioness.

Mj Bradley

I am heartbroken. We knew this was coming soon, but it doesn’t make it any easier. What a history this pride has written.. I can only hope that maybe the Tailless lioness can join with a younger group so her last cub has a chance of surviving. Thank you for the blog and I wish her a swift and peaceful journey.

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