There are a couple of words and phrases that the Londolozi rangers use on the radio that get my pulse – and I’m pretty sure the pulses of the rest of the team – racing. “Located”, “interaction” and “highly mobile” are three examples. Used individually, they set the imagination to work, wondering what it is that the other ranger calling it in is privileged enough to be witnessing.
So when ranger James Crookes used all three of the above to describe the 6 (yes, 6!!) male lions that he found a few mornings ago, I knew we were about to see something special.
Hurrying down the road to the clearing where James had found the lions, we rounded the final corner to be greeted by an incredibly dramatic sight of 3 big male lions, roaring their lungs out, chasing another 3 across the grassy plain. We were very close to our Southern boundary and at first were unsure as to the identity of any of these males. To be honest, I didn’t even care at first, I was simply speechless at the awe-inspiring sight of 6 males in line astern, all running fast with that typical lion gait, manes billowing in the wind as 3 of them ran for their lives while the other 3 chased to kill!
As it turns out, the 3 doing the chasing were from the all-powerful Majingilane Coalition, while the other 3 that were fleeing were unknown to us. Reports of their presence and incursion from the Kruger National Park have been filtering in recently – two magnificent males with big manes and a third with an underdeveloped mane – often a sign of stress in older male lions.
Current dynamics aside, the underdeveloped maned lion made a grievous error in splitting off from his two brothers, swinging west as the other two fled south over our boundary onto safer territory, pursued by one of the Majingilane. The two remaining Majingilane stuck on the tail of the underdeveloped male, and it was these lions that we followed.
We struggled to keep up over rocky terrain and through dense bush, eventually losing sight of the 3 as they crossed a deep drainage line. Switching off our vehicles to listen, we could hear the sounds of bellowing and snarling from not far away; it seemed as if the underdeveloped male had been caught! We were forced to drive back around the drainage line to get to the scene of the conflict, but by that time it was almost over. The third Majingilane had returned to join his brothers, and the three of them lay in a triangle, in the middle of which was their vanquished foe, the gaping bite-marks and blood on his flanks and rump the clear evidence of the mauling he had just received.
He was to lie there for the day, cowed and beaten and with the Majingilane watching over him, until chance and incredibly good fortune most probably saved his life. Early in the afternoon a herd of elephants caught the scent of the lions and came running in to chase them off. The Majingilane fled in one direction while the defeated male took his chance to make a dash for safety in the opposite direction, heading south to try and find his coalition-mates.
Will we see him or his brothers again? Time will tell, but one thing is clear for now; the strangle-hold that the Majingilane have over the central Sabi Sands is as strong as ever!
Extra pictures of the fight taken by Lucien Beaumont
Written by James Tyrrell
Photographed by James Tyrrell and Lucien Beaumont