On the 5th of this month we ran a post reporting the impending demise of the Hip Scar male from the Majingilane coalition. Seen in very poor condition, we didn’t see how he could recover from the almost skeletal state he was in, and sadly, within ten days, he would indeed be dead.
His carcass was found in the Western Sector of the Sabi Sands, partially consumed by scavengers, thus making him the first of this powerful coalition to die.
The Majingilane came roaring into the Sabi Sands from the Kruger Park in the middle parts of 2010, ushering in a new era in the wake of four years of Mapogo control. I won’t purport to discuss what happened prior to late 2010, as I wasn’t here then, but suffice it to say the Majingilane have been the coalition that have defined the lion dynamics during the six years I have spent at Londolozi.
Despite the Dark Maned and Scar Nose males almost certainly being the dominant pair of the four, almost always claiming first mating rights when it came to lionesses in oestrus, it was nevertheless the Hip Scar male, with his rich tawny coat and golden eyes, that caught many people’s attention.
We talk a lot about anthropomorphizing, and how it can lead us to make false conclusions about animal behaviour, but without actually humanising certain of his behavioural traits, it is certainly within the bounds of acceptability to say that the temperament of the Hip Scar male was different to the rest. One doesn’t need to go into full detail, but the way he related to the various females and cubs from the prides which the Majingilane controlled seemed to lack the aloofness that the other males would display. Whilst the Dark Maned male would generally choose to lie a little bit away from the rest, it would not be uncommon to find the Hip Scar male in and amongst any cubs that happened to be around, indulging them in their antics.
I can’t really speak for his last two years in which he spent most of his time away from Londolozi, but I don’t imagine things would have changed much.
The hierarchy within a male lion coalition is largely established form a young age. Some cubs tend to be more boisterous than others, pushing their siblings away from kills and dominating rough games, and already from when they are a few months old male cubs can be forming a pecking order. Male cubs from different litters will often leave a pride together, forced out by their own fathers or new males, and in numbers lie strength, so forming a larger coalition gives them a greater chance of survival as well as a greater chance of taking over their own territory in years to come. Males from the older litters in these groups, although similar sized in maturity, would have had an extended period during sub-adulthood in which the size differences between them and the younger individuals would have been more pronounced, and this period most likely serves to reinforce the established hierarchy.
The Hip Scar male’s status within his own coalition may well have been a product of his youth. Quite possibly he was from a younger litter, and was always fated to occupy the bottom rung.
Whether or not the Hip Scar male was lowest on the Majingilane pecking order or not is actually unimportant. As a lion, he was spectacular. Beautiful, majestic, and dare I say it, photogenic.
With his pronounced limp and tag-along-at-the-back status he might not have been seen in the same light as the other apparently more dominant brothers in his coalition, but I personally saw him charging into the fray to take on intruders that threatened his territory, and without him, the Majingilane could almost certainly not have held territory for as long as they have (almost seven years in the reserve).
Call him a vital link in the coalition’s chain, call him the weak link, call him what you will; the fact remains that we have lost an impressive and beautiful animal that served for years as an ambassador for his species. It is in our nature to grieve, but we can take solace from the fact that this magnificent wild lion died from natural causes, and is immortalised in countless images and photo albums around the world.
Gone but never forgotten.