Late last week saw a rare event; some of the Londolozi trackers stumped. Despite following the tracks of the two Matimba males all the way through a sweltering morning, they were eventually forced to call it quits at around noon when the last tracks headed into some extensive grassland in the far south-west of the reserve. No further sign of the males could be found.
For another 48 hours the mystery remained unsolved as to where the lions had disappeared to, but two evenings later tracker Life Sibuyi, following tracks of male lions near Londolozi’s southern boundary, came across the partly consumed carcass of a sub-adult buffalo. Male lion tracks were all over the scene, and although Life and ranger Garrett Fitzpatrick did not find the males themselves, it was strongly suspected that the Matimba males were the culprits. Heading to the carcass the following morning, ranger Melving Sambo confirmed that it was indeed them who had most likely made the kill, as both were on site with enormously distended stomachs. Another possibility is that the skittish unknown male who has been glimpsed once or twice in the area brought the buffalo down and was subsequently robbed by the Matimbas, but we cannot confirm this. Whatever the case, we now knew where the Matimba males had disappeared to, and they were far beyond the southernmost point we had previously seen them at.
The pink area along the Sand River is the Matimba coalition’s usual territory. To put it into perspective how small an area this is for a coalition of two big males to control, the 4:4 male leopard controls a bigger territory by himself, and he is not a big individual! The pink dot at the bottom of the map is where the male lions were found on the buffalo kill at the end of last week.
What had driven them so far south? Only a few weeks ago we viewed one of the Charleston coalition a few hundred metres from the spot where the Matimba males now lay, so finding them so far out of their usual territory was certainly an unexpected development.
The smaller of the two males quenches his thirst after feeding on the buffalo kill. Photograph by Sean Cresswell.
Recent weeks have seen a number of interactions between the Majingilane males and the Matimbas, with the Majingilane seemingly emerging from each encounter as the more dominant force. The scars on the rump of the lighter-maned Matimba are testament to the fact that this pair have run into trouble recently, so their foray into the south might just have been a way of alleviating some of the pressure they may be under. Whatever the case, they were back in their regular haunt two mornings later, being found by Trevor McCall-Peat just before sunrise as they made their way onto the Londolozi airstrip.
Leaving the airstrip behind them, both males were walking fairly quickly.
The dark-maned male strides ahead.
Although other lions could be heard calling way to the south-east (most likely Matshipiri males) and north-east (probably Birmingham coalition) as the two Matimbas moved towards the Sand River, no response was offered by them. They paused on a number of occasions to listen intently, once even listening west, in which direction we could hear nothing. Most likely they had heard the distant calls of the Majingilane, but amidst the vocalisations of three different coalitions from almost all points of the compass, they did not answer back once.
This is not the sign of a supremely dominant coalition. I remember when the Majingilane were controlling the area; if they heard even the slightest hint of a rival calling in the distance they would respond almost instantly with a full-throated bellow.
Not so with the Matimbas.
The lighter maned male stops for a quick drink at a pan.
Both males turn towards the west to listen. Although our ears could hear nothing, it is distinctly possible that their far more sensitive hearing had caught the sound of the Majingilane calling in that direction.
Having now returned to their regular stomping grounds, a thin strip along Londolozi’s section of the Sand River, it seems they are content to reconsign themselves into apparent complacency.
They were found this morning in company with two of the Tsalala females in the Manyelethi River to the north of the Londolozi camps, having only moved a kilometre or two overnight. It seems we may have to wait for the next incursion from a rival coalition to get the Matimba males moving any great distance again…
I don’t know about the EP incident, but I was there myself in 2015 when the Majingilanes turned and ran from the Matshipiris. That was after they had already chased them a long way, out of their (the Majingilane’s) usual area of operation and essentially onto foreign soil. The initial chase began exactly because the Majingilane had responded to a threat! It was only when they were far out of their area and realised they had divided their force that they turned around.
Take a look at this post from a few years ago. http://blog.londolozi.com/2012/10/lion-warfare-majingilane-vs-new-males/ The Majingilanes acted in exactly the way I described.
My comments about them responding to roaring related to the time when they were dominant over Londolozi. They are not really anymore, although by coming back to chase the Matimbas on a number of occasions they show they are still not a spent force. How they respond to roaring these days I am not sure, since we so rarely see them.