From being what was once a strong and stable coalition just a short while ago, the Matshipiri male lions are now in serious trouble.
In mid- to late April, in an unknown incident, one of the Matshipiri males broke his leg and since then his condition has been deteriorating. Moving with his brother and spending time with the Ntsevu pride had been his saving grace though because it had meant that he has had meat provided for him. That was until about a week ago.
The first encounter happened in southern Dudley on the 20th May on the banks of the Sand River, where two young, unknown males chased the Matshipiri males north through their territory. We saw only a single Matshipiri male that morning heading north and roaring constantly, with the calls of the two other males further south and east of him. It seemed in this encounter the older males managed to get away unscathed.
We became aware of the second encounter when we heard the bellowing roars of these coalitions all the way from camp on the morning of the 23rd. Shaun D’Araujo and Elmon Mhlongo traced these calls to central Londolozi and found two young males lions that none of us had ever seen before.
Gregory Pingo and his guests were with these males later on in the morning as they walked through Londolozi, calling brazenly. On this exploratory mission they came across the uninjured Matshipiri male who had been resting in some long grass. As soon as he lifted his head and was spotted, the new coalition took off after him. These young males are only estimated to be about four years old and are in fact much younger and smaller than the Matshipiri males, but being alone and outnumbered, the Matshipiri male apparently decided that it was not worth a fight and so he ran for a few kilometres with the newcomers trailing close behind him. They eventually lost sight of the Matshipiri male, who headed down into the Sand River to the east of our camps, and the new males lay down to rest just south of the camps for the remainder of the day.
The male with the broken back leg was seen lying close to our eastern boundary, about mid-way along. He was incredibly lucky that it wasn’t him who had been spotted by these newcomers as he would have been unable to escape in his weakened state.
The following morning, the tracks showed that the healthier Matshipiri male had done a massive loop to the east of Londolozi during the night, gone south by a number of kilometres where he was met again by the newcomers. Trackers, Freddy Ngobeni and Sersant Sibuyi did an amazing job of piecing together what happened during the night based on the tracks left behind.
The tracks showed where the new males had been walking when they spotted the Matshipiri male. They took off after him attempting to chase him down. There was a point where the new males managed to grab him but he ran a few more paces, dragging them along with him. The scene where the actual fight occurred showed a lot of disturbance to the ground, patches of blood as well as clumps of hair that had been ripped out of his mane. The tracks showed where the older male managed to get away and run off. From there the newcomers continued walking, leaving small smudges of blood on the ground from the base of their paws as they walked. The newcomers were found a little while later, still roaring and walking. They were both limping slightly, with blood on their feet but were otherwise in good condition. Later on that morning, they met up with a Ntsevu lioness who was seen mating with them sporadically.
The Matshipiri male was also found much further north of this but he was far worse off. He was bleeding profusely from the face and had been bitten badly on his back.
This male was seen again on the afternoon of the 27th in the Sand River to the east of our camps. Despite being a bit bruised and battered, he doesn’t seem to have sustained any life threatening injuries.
His brother with the broken leg was also seen on that same afternoon. He is incredibly thin at the moment and was seen chasing a male cheetah. It is quite possible that he was hoping the cheetah had a kill that he could rob but unfortunately for him this was not the case. We did see him manage to run a few paces on his broken leg but once the cheetah had moved off, he collapsed in some shade to rest. Although these animals have an amazing amount of resilience and tend to bounce back from some seemingly dire situations, his condition doesn’t bode well.
In a slight turn of events the two Matshipiris were seen again this morning, this time together. Last night the Tsalala Pride killed a wildebeest and when the kill was discovered by some hyenas, they began to call in other members of the clan to help chase the pride off the kill. The noise and commotion they caused drew the attention of the two Matshipiri males who were able to chase the pride off the kill and feast on it themselves. We did not see the male with the broken leg move at all so we can’t be sure how his leg is working. His brother is looking healthy though, apart from a few deep scratches and bite marks to his face and back.
The last few months have been relatively peaceful on Londolozi with regards to lion dynamics with the absence of the Matimba males and only sporadic visits from the Majingilane coalition. Now though, roars can be heard late into the morning and the competition between these coalitions is heating up for sure. Currently we are trying to ascertain who this new coalition is, although photographic comparisons and updates from neighbouring lodges seem to suggest that they are the Avoca young males, a newly dispersed pair that have moved down from the Timbavati/Ngala area.