September 2nd, 2015 was the day on which the first sighting of a Matimba male lion was officially recorded on Londolozi soil.
Although from their tracks we knew they’d been here before, it was only that night that fellow guide Dave Strachan and I were lucky enough to catch our first glimpse of the Hairy Bellied Matimba, walking across a clearing not too far from camp, moments before he took down an adult impala ewe.
Only a few days later, both males were seen together for the first time, found feeding a buffalo kill they had made near the Sand River.
Over the course of the next year these two males, split off from an original coalition of 6, would establish themselves on Londolozi soil, mating with the resident Tsalala pride and fathering the five cubs we currently see with the two lionesses. After the westward departure of the Majingilane in 2015, it took the Matimba males getting chased out of their northern territory by the Birmingham males to get them down into our area, which brought relative peace after a turbulent year of male lion activity. The Styx, Fourways and Matshipiri males had all attempted to stake a claim, but it was the arrival of the much larger Matimba pair that seemed to settle the issue.
So what has happened now?
The Matimba males have vanished from the area, and the last reports we had were of them up near Orpen Gate in the Kruger Park. That’s around 50km away, which may not seem like a particularly big distance, but for a territorial lion it’s pretty far! The full Matimba coalition originated from the area, so it is certainly possible that the Londolozi pair have tried to reconnect with their original group. Why this might be so is anyone’s guess, which is why lion dynamics are so fascinating; the unknown adds to the intrigue.
There was recent interaction between the Matimba males and Mhangeni Breakaway prides in the eastern sector of Londolozi, which we suspected could be due to the fact that those lionesses had been spending quite a bit of time mating with the Matshipiri coalition. That was on January 8th, and since then, the Matimba’s movements have been somewhat erratic. From moving deep into the south, far beyond Londolozi’s borders, they then turned back north, continuing right through Londolozi and disappearing up into the Manyelethi reserve from whence they originated. Not stopping there, they pressed on into the Kruger Park, and reports were that they were seen around the Orpen Gate area around the 21st February. Then on the 24th they were reportedly back in the northern Sabi Sands, vocalising at the Birmingham coalition, the males that had ousted them from the area.
Over the last few days the Mhangeni Breakaway females have been spending time with the Matshipiri males, and a number of mating pairs have been formed.
The Matshipiri males have been spending a lot more time on Londolozi soil than they previously have, but what does this mean for the two Matimba males? Have they simply headed off to find their old coalition? Were they chased by the Matshipiri males?
It seems conjecture is the only thing we can be sure of…