A half-eaten lioness lies dead at Marthly Pools. Dean and Elmon discovered her at sunset on Thursday and broke the news to those game drives that hadn’t closed down for a gin and tonic and a piece of cheese.
After drive Jerry and I headed to the village for a cold beer to toast the life of the old Tslalala Tail-less Female. We don’t have a coroner here and Dean and Elmon didn’t manage to positively identify who it was – but instinctively most of us know who it is who lies at the Tsalala Pride’s favourite haunt.
Over the past few days all the other females have been accounted for and so without having to lift her gums and check for the missing canine we’ve let her lie in state in the shade of the magnificent Albizia that she so frequently climbed to while away the hottest hours of the day.
It is sad news out of the Bushveld, and for those of you who encountered her on game drive it may even seem tragic. After some reflection however I’ve decided that to describe the death of a 15 year old lioness as being premature is like grieving for a 1000 year old Leadwood that no longer bears leaves. She was an old lioness whose 15 years may seem to be such a short time measured by us but by lion years at Londolozi she was well advanced in her years.
She made her first appearance at Londolozi as a cub in 1998. Two females from the Castleton Pride, hesitant to take small cubs back into a main group of 22, brought their litter to Londolozi and set up a territory west of the Camps. They were often viewed near Tsalala Pan which became an obvious choice for the name of this new pride.
By 2002, both the adult females were dead, one having being kicked fatally by a zebra and the other being killed by hyena in front of Tree Camp. The only other cub to have survived with her was a brother who would unbelievably be poached, leaving her alone and then in oestrus. She sought out the two dominant Marthly Males and in December 2002 produced her first litter that would include the two adult lionesses of the Tsalala Pride.
She always has been a phenomenal huntress, that never changed!
Her track record as a mother was sullied by the various male lion wars that she witnessed. Her attempts at raising young were to be frequently interrupted by the change-over of landlords: after the Marthly Males came the Kruger Male, the Shaws Males, the Mapogo Coalition and then finally the Majingilane Males, with each new territory holder wiping out the young genes of the previous males and then planting their own. I would love to have seen just how many cubs she would have reared to adulthood with a stable male dynamic, and it’s a pity that the relative stability that the Majingilane Males have offered since 2010 came so late in her life. Perhaps her daughters will benefit from the relative ‘peacetime’ that she never knew.
It wasn’t necessarily all search, seek and destroy. In the midst of all of this male warfare she played a clever game of ‘hide and seek’ long enough for five cubs to escape infanticide. The first survivor was the Tsalala Young Male who was fathered by the Marthly Males. He was the sole survivor of a litter of four that she protected first against the Kruger Male and then successfully hid from the Shaws Males. It was during this trying period that she lost her tale in a fight with a hyena and became known as the Tail-less Female.
She and her two daughters also had eight cubs fathered by the Mapogo coalition. Four of those were killed by the Majingilane Males through 2010 and 2011 but the canny lioness took sole responsibility for the four remaining young females moving with them away from Sparta and Marthly and kept them out of harm’s way until they were adults. Those four females are now the Munghen Pride and she left them to their own devices when they were capable enough, in order to re-join her two adult daughters.
Here, one can see the patience that she has had with all her cubs.
It is an amazing legacy that she contrived under adverse circumstances. Ironically she was killed by the Munghen females that she battled so hard to protect. A kudu was killed in a daytime hunt by the four lionesses early last week. Hungry and with cubs to feed they did not welcome the old female who arrived at the carcass and gave her a mauling that she couldn’t recover from. It’s a bizarre twist in an unusual tale, but then again lion dynamics tend towards the disfunctional.
I’ve often wondered about the celebrity of this particular lioness. Was she just more recognisable to us because of her missing tail, or is her story really so compelling? Aren’t all wild lionesses subject to grim battles of survival? I don’t have the answer for that and with part of her story told here you can make your own mind up. What I’m sure about is that she will be sorely missed in a very venerable and untragic way…
Written by Tom Imrie