A couple of weeks ago we ran a post that looked at the resurgence of the hyena population on Londolozi, and how this was going to have a knock-on effect on the other predators in the area, in particular the lions.
In this post we mentioned a sighting in which two of the Sparta lionesses took down a wildebeest and were robbed that evening by the local hyena clan, who in turn were robbed by one of the Matshipiri male lions.
The story did not end there.
Let me rewind to that morning. I’ll pass briefly over the Tsalala pride, who had an altercation with the hyena clan at dawn and then moved away for the day. I’ll come instead to the main and unusual event of the pre-noon saga; the return of the Majingilane. The roars of one of the Matshipiri males had permeated the night air the evening before and had obviously been heard by attentive ears in the west. Silently the Majingilane had made their approach, and we had had no indication that they were in the vicinity as they made their way on padded paws.. Were it not for a radio call from one of our staff member’s en route to a bush breakfast who happened to bump into them, we may never have known they were there.
Daniel Buys moved in after the radio call and found them quickly; the scar-nosed, hip-scar and missing-canine members of the mighty coalition. Absent was the dark-maned male, but reports from lodges in the west was that he was mating with a member of the Ottawa pride. The three Majingilane had clearly come back east to put on a bold front for the benefit of the Mathsipiri males(s). Although rare visitors to Londolozi these days, it was clear from their arrival that they still viewed these central areas of the Sabi Sands as their undisputed domain.
As can happen with lions, the morning resulted in anticlimax, and the three males settled down to sleep the day away, as did the Sparta females with their kill, the Tsalala pride, the Matshipiri male and an unknown young male who had wandered in from the northern side of the river, who we believed to be possibly a member of the Mhangeni pride. All of these lions were within a circle of one kilometre radius, and we suspected that come evening, something had to happen.
The Sparta pride were attacked first.
The hyena clan that had chased off the Tsalala pride in the morning moved in as evening fell and forced the lionesses off their wildebeest kill. Two lionesses were no match for the 14 hyenas that they were up against, and the beleaguered pride were forced to retreat. The whoops of the hyena clan as they gorged themselves on their prize carried to where the Mathsipiri male was rousing himself, and before long he had moved in to scatter the clan and claim the kill for his own. Ranger Gregory Pingo and a few other staff members had taken a vehicle out to see the possible interaction and arrived on the scene just as the Matshipiri male settled down to feed. They had bumped into the Majingilane on their way to the kill and had left them walking into the darkness, knowing that the wildebeest kill was where the action would be. We arrived at the kill shortly afterwards, and things were relatively peaceful as the male lion fed contentedly, ignoring the few remaining hyenas sneaking around.
Our main aim was to see the Majingilane, as my guests had viewed them every year since their (the coalition’s) arrival at Londolozi, and we didn’t want to miss this rare opportunity. We had a hard task however, as we now had to find them in the darkness, and although we suspected otherwise, we knew they could be long gone. A few fruitless circuits about the area turned up nothing, and we were about to return to camp when Greg’s voice came over the radio that they had found the three males, and they were barely 100m from where the Matshipiri male was feeding and still blissfully unaware of the impending threat.
Needless to say, we raced back to the scene, heading straight to the Matshipiri male, who the Majingilane were by now steadily approaching.
Just as we do when lions or leopards are hunting at night, both vehicles went lights down, as we don’t like to impact natural behaviour in any way. A faint moon illuminated where the Mathsipiri male continued to feed. Apart from the noise of him eating, all was eerily quiet.
Suddenly his head shot up, ears pointedly fixed to the west, the direction the Majingilane were lying in. Possessing far superior hearing and vision to any human, he had heard and subsequently spotted the danger in time, and he immediately got up and slunk quickly and silently off into the darkness. Within less than a minute the three Majingilane had arrived at the kill, and predicting another anticlimax, we all expected them to settle down to feed. Not so. The Scar-nosed male arrived first, and the instant he cut the scent of the Matshipiri male, he turned and broke into a run. Followed by the male with the missing canine, both males were soon at a full canter, roaring their anger at the intrusion of the foreign male. It was all we could do to keep up as they continued at a run, moving on and on through the bush, across drainage lines, through thickets, foregoing the ease of movement that game paths or dirt roads would offer and staying like bloodhounds on the scent trail of the Matshipiri male, roaring continuously.
It’s impossible to convey the excitement of such an evening in words, or even in video. The bouncing and rattling of the Land Rover, the constant bellowing of the lions as they move at speed, the unknown whereabouts of the male they are chasing, running desperately ahead of them, hearing his fate bearing down relentlessly from behind, and all of this taking place in complete darkness, with only the headlights and the spotlight beam providing scant illumination; all of these combine to produce an intoxicating cocktail of adrenalin and whatever else might be flowing through your system.
The chase had gone on for over two kilometres when the two Majingilane slowed to a walk (the hip-scar male had not joined the chase). Switching off our engines to listen, we could hear not one, but two sets of answering roars reverberating out of the thickets only a few hundred metres away; the Matshipiri male had clearly reunited with his brother! Suddenly finding themselves far out of their usual stomping grounds (this was the furthest east they had travelled in over a year), and faced with an enemy of unknown strength, the two Majingilane decided that discretion was the better part of valour, and turned quickly to trot back the way they had come, the defiant roars of the Matshipiri males sounding behind them.
They maintained the pace all the way back to where the hip-scar male was feeding on the wildebeest kill. Although the initial instinct from all on our vehicle was to admonish him for not joining in the chase, we realised that had he not stayed with the kill, the hyenas would have moved in and devoured it within minutes, and he had therefore saved a meal for him and his coalition-mates.
My take on the day’s events is simple: The Majingilane responded instinctively to the roars of an intruding male (Matshipiri), which they may not have done had they heard both Matshipiri males together. Sensing his vulnerability, they moved in silently over the course of a night and the next evening, but were just too slow to catch him unawares. Luckily for the Matshipiri male, he had a clear line of sight to where the Majingilane were advancing from, enabling him to sneak away in time, thereby escaping at the very least a severe mauling but quite possibly death. Upon scenting him, two of the Majingilane immediately gave chase, with the third one remaining behind to guard their newly acquired wildebeest carcass and retain control of the meal. After being chased for a substantial distance, the Matshipiri male reunited with his brother, effectively doubling the force facing the Majingilane. Upon their reunion, the Matshipiri males immediately began roaring, which essentially amounted to a direct challenge to the Majingilane. Now finding themselves in a two-on-two situation, the chasing Majingilane realised they were far from home, without help and potentially outmatched. They immediately retreated, stopping to feed once they reached the wildebeest carcass once more.
Exactly what happened later that night I cannot say, as we headed home after this. All we know is that the Majingilane had disappeared back over our western boundary by the following morning, and the Matshipiri males were nowhere to be found. Tracks of male lions were everywhere. I strongly suspect that the reunited Matshipiri males may have advanced towards where the Majingilane were feeding, and the experience of the Majingilane led them to shun an aggressive encounter and move back to the safety of their own secure territory.
The Majingilane are ageing steadily, yet on this evening displayed the tactical superiority which has kept them in firm control for so many years. Advancing when they have the upper hand and retreating when the tables turn. It is not just brute strength and numbers that determine the victors when it comes to Lion Warfare, but clearly an innate understanding of which strategies to employ and when.
The Majingilane. Still a force to be reckoned with.
Written and Photographed by James Tyrrell, Londolozi Ranger
Filmed by Kate Collins (Londolozi blog Editor) and Terri Abadi (Londolozi Guest)