There is trouble brewing. Since 2010 the Majingilane have reigned supreme over the central Sabi Sands. Their territory encompasses all of Londolozi and spills over to our East, West and North. Roughly 250 square kilometres of wilderness are theirs and theirs alone, yet their dominance, and indeed the dynamics of the lions of much of the Sabi Sand Reserve could be thrown into turmoil with the rise of two lions well known to Londolozi; the Sparta and Tsalala young males.
Both these lions were chased out of the area when the Majingilane arrived in 2010, yet after serving their time as nomads, it seems as they may have set their sights on their old hunting grounds. If not here, then their efforts nearby could certainly impact the Londolozi lion dynamics.
Although it is more common for young male lions to leave the area entirely and eventually set up elsewhere, it is not unheard of for males to return to the area in which they grew up to attempt a coup. Let us not forget that the Mapogo originated in the Sparta Pride, and returned years later to take over their natal area.
The Tsalala and Sparta young males, after fleeing from the Majingilane in 2010/2011, dropped of the radar for many months. They were not seen on Londolozi for over a year until they were found one morning deep in the South East hunting a buffalo herd. At the time another of the Sparta young males was with them but he has subsequently disappeared, possibly killed by another male lion. A further sighting of them that year was documented in September 2012.
Since late 2012 the two males have been making more and more incursions into the central and western Sabi Sands. Putting massive pressure on the Kruger male, who rules over the Southern Pride, the Tsalala and Sparta males (let’s shed the ‘young’ moniker) have been growing in stature and confidence, and it seems almost inevitable that something is going to happen soon.
While the Kruger male has so far managed to remain in control of the southern reaches of the park – no mean feat for a single aging lion – the screws are being tightened on him all the time. The Sand River males – a new coalition of 3 – are moving in, and it may be that the advent of this new threat has also pushed the Tsalala and Sparta males further north.
Two days ago, two of the Selati males cornered the Sparta male to the west of Londolozi and an aggressive interaction was witnessed, although no serious injuries were incurred by any of the lions. Apparently the Tsalala male was nearby but did not approach to assist his coalition mate; not a promising sign if these two lions are looking to take over territory.
Which territory are they setting their sights on though? They were not particularly successful in their attempted overthrow of the Kruger male, so are they now pushing west in an attempt to take on the 4 young Selati males? Why would they think they could be more successful there when they couldn’t displace just a single lion in the South? One thing seems clear though, and that is that they are determined to skirt Majingilane-held territory, as the two have not been seen on central Londolozi at all.
I know it can be pretty hard to keep track of who is who and what is happening. We are unsure ourselves a lot of the time.
Here is some footage documenting some of the Tsalala male’s journey, both with the Tsalala Pride, into which he was born, and then the Sparta pride, into which he was accepted.
My suspicion is that the Tsalala male and Sparta male may not claim territory at all. Taking on coalitions of four (Selati and Majingilane) does not seem likely to end well, unless the two can isolate individual members of the coaltions and take them out one by one, much like the Selati males did when they overthrew the Mapogo. The South was their best bet, but with new males pushing in from Kruger Park, the prospect seems to suddenly be less appealing.
I love speculating on lion movements. We are of course never sure what the future holds, but one thing I am confident of is that the forthcoming year is going to be a dramatic one for the lion dynamics in the Sabi Sands.
Written by James Tyrrell
First and third photographs by Adam Bannister