It was always going to be the Hip Scar male.
The outsider. The one with the limp. The one whose calls often went unanswered by the rest of his coalition.
I remember a morning in which we found him roaring not far from our western boundary. He was slowly moving westwards, stopping regularly to listen. We had heard over the radio that the Scar-nosed and Dark-maned males were a couple of kilometres away, further west, marching relentlessly back into what had become their newly established territory after the foursome had vacated Londolozi, but nary a call did we or the Hip-scar male hear from the two of them. They continued on in silence, seemingly intent on ignoring the distant vocalizations of their brother trailing far behind them.
It had often been like this over the preceding months. As the four Majingilane had slowly released their stranglehold on the central Sabi Sands, moving into the western sector and overthrowing the younger Selati males, the Hip scar male had often found himself isolated, and if three members of the coalition were found together, he was invariably not one of them.
Why this was we have no way of knowing for sure. I know lion dynamics can be complicated at best, and the what and why are often obscured behind layers of conflicting factors, but the fact remains that the Hip-scar male was more of a loner than the rest. Maybe his chronically injured ankle rendered him less effective on patrol; perhaps this weakness was sensed by the other three and they chose to keep him in a state of semi-ostracism. Who can say for sure?
Whatever the case, the Hip-Scar male, when I saw him last, was all alone and to be quite frank, teetering on the brink. He lay with ribs showing, a severe gash stretching from his hip into his groin, with his face pressed into thick grass, not lifting his head when our vehicle arrived.
His breathing was shallow, and his gaunt hips were sure indicators of his weakened state.
This was over 72 hours ago, and although he has recovered from being in very poor condition before this, his advancing age would make each successive recovery harder and longer, and sadly I don’t see a way back for him this time.
I have not heard an update yet, but as I write this – and I hope that I am wrong – the Hip-Scar Majingilane may well have already become the first of this mighty coalition to die.
I wasn’t in the sighting, but a couple of weeks ago he was found very close to a buffalo kill that the Matimba males were feeding on, with the Mhangeni pride nearby, and he was already looking the worse for wear. No-one saw it take place, but fresh wounds on his spine and flanks seem to indicate a clash during the night, most likely with the two Matimba males. So much of lion behaviour takes place under cover of darkness when there is no one around to witness it, so we cannot make any firm statements, but it is certainly possible that it was the Matimba males that have pushed him towards his final demise.
I will wait for an update on his condition, but given that the rest of the Majingilane were nowhere near him and the Mhangeni pride was also not in the vicinity, it is extremely unlikely he will be able to get a meal that will help him to recover this time.
The unpredictable nature of things in the bush ensured that there was no way we could have guessed that seven years after their arrival, the Majingilane would still be here. We did hazard a guess, however, that when the end came the Hip Scar male would be the first to go.
As is often the case with lion predictions, I hope I am mistaken, and that even as I pen these words he is feeding on a buffalo and slowly regaining his strength.
My heart though, tells me that his luck – and time – have run out.