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.
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.
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.
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.
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…