The ever-changing lion dynamics within the Sabi Sands continues to intrigue. Now, however, potential changes and unseen events have furthered that intrigue and interest into mystery and unanswered questions. The Matimba coalition of two have undergone unexplained movements lately and may therefore be at a tipping point. Will they continue to dominate central Londolozi or crumble under surrounding pressures?
As has been the unorthodox “normal” since late 2015 the two Matimba males have secured the central region of Londolozi, a relatively small territory, but interacting with both the Tsalala and Mhangeni prides nonetheless. Since the stand-off and reciprocal chasing between them and three of the Majingilane males in late December the anticipated attack and/or retaliation never materialised. But there could be a new threat to their east which they had not been prepared for.
Throughout the majority of their tenure on Londolozi the Matimba males have remained within close proximity to one another; a smart move at the start of a reign. Even while one male has been mating with a lioness (often an extended period of time) the other male placed himself within earshot of the temporary pair, highlighting the tight bond shared between the two males. With Majingilane presence to their west the outnumbered Matimba males need to be ready at all times. Despite their diligence, it seems the coalition has been caught off guard from unknown pressures in the opposite direction.
Two weeks ago the two Matimba males were seen patrolling central Londolozi and the southern bank of the Sand River, with no sign of Majingilane roars to their west. That night, however, the keen and experienced ears of tracker, Judas Ngomane caught what he was sure were the distant sounds of fighting lions further downstream. Nothing could be found the following morning and theories developed. That was February 8th, and only a few days went by before the dark-maned Matimba male was found much further into the northern section of Londolozi, unscathed. His beautifully long and extensive mane and dark coat was in as good condition as always, but there was no sign of the other male. Our search continued for twelve more days, with the dark-maned male returning to his usual movements around central Londolozi, including joining up with a portion of the Tsalala pride for a few days and sharing in their Kudu carcass, with solitary, intermittent calling during night time. The theories regarding the missing male continued to grow.
It was only two days ago, February 20th, that he emerged. That morning, the dark-maned male had been left resting nearby to two Tsalala lionesses in the Manyalethi riverbed but was not present in the afternoon. Determined trackers managed to find him at sunset closer to the Sand River, to where he had followed the quiet contact calls of the missing male and the two lay close together at night fell; later their combined roars could be heard from camp during dinner. Rangers and Trackers alike were surprised to hear of his return and the coalition’s reunion, but the separation never came without a price.
Signs of a near fatal conflict are evident and it seems the male is extremely lucky to not only have survived the attack but to have remained alive since. He may have cheated death even further by escaping any long-term injury, particularly spinal damage, and thus managed to make his way back towards central Londolozi and find his brother. Despite looking thin and badly hurt, he sports only superficial injuries with the exception of a typical “kill bite” (seen in male lion conflicts) around the lower back; it is still unclear whether the spine is only swollen or internal damage has occurred. The latter now seems less likely as yesterday the two males covered an impressive distance upstream to join a single Mhangeni lioness on a buffalo carcass, chasing away the younger sub-adult of that pride. With a full stomach the injured Matimba male has a much greater chance of recovery, and with the other male by his side he may crawl out of the proverbial grave.
As those deathly sounds two weeks ago were heard in the distance to the east and echoing from the Sand River, the interaction went unseen and subsequent viewing of the area was impossible. As such, it is not known who (or how many) inflicted the damage to the powerful male or where the other Matimba male was at the time. As we have seen, the two are aware of Majingilane pressure to their west and may only have stood down to their challenge eight weeks ago as they were outnumbered by one. This happened far away from any Majingilane presence, though.
The young but already infamous Birmingham males from the northern Sabi Sands have occasionally ventured down into north-eastern Londolozi, several strong. The two fierce Matshipiri males spend most of their time much further south with the remaining Sparta pride lionesses. There is a single unknown male whose fairly nomadic nature causes him to temporarily appear amongst all of this chaos, but him alone could not have done enough damage to the strong Matimba male. Perhaps two or three of the Birmingham males had caught him off guard as they explored closer to Londolozi while the dark-maned male was out of sight. If this is the case, leaving their victim injured but still alive may have been a mistake.
As we have seen with many lions in nature, flesh wounds which are consistently licked and groomed have an impressive likelihood of healing. Lions seem to beat the odds against septicemia and make full recoveries from most wounds, but face danger from internal injuries and spinal damage. The next few weeks will reveal the extent of his injuries, but for now the coalition has reunited and is partaking in a crucial feed. Will one male’s fight for life secure the Matimba presence and prepare them for further expansion? The resilience of these big cats continues to astonish.