Two days ago we posted about the Scar-nose male of the Majingilane coalition being in poor shape, and wondered where his old patrol-mate, the Dark-maned male, might be.
We didn’t have long to wait.
Yesterday morning, the excited whooping of hyenas caught ranger Melvin Sambo’s attention, and moving through a thicket towards the source of the calls, Melvin and tracker Milton Khoza saw three things; a leopard in a tree with a kill, a whole lot of hyenas harassing something beyond the leopard, and in the middle of the marauding clan, the Dark-maned Majingilane.
Quite possibly the lion had seen the leopard’s kill and had hoped to steal it, but in his condition that was never going to happen. Whether or not the hyenas had been attracted by the kill or by the presence of the vulnerable male lion, it is hard to say.
Once the most dominant male in the most dominant coalition of the Sabi Sands, it seems a tragedy to have to witness him in this state. Our eyes almost don’t want to take in the reality of what they are seeing. This group of four male lions had been around so long, their presence seems almost inseparable from the concept of the Sabi Sand Wildtuin, and call it human indulgence, but we don’t want to imagine a reserve without them.
Only in January, the remaining three (the Missing Canine male was still alive then) were trailing the Mhangeni pride and looking incredibly impressive:
It’s hard to believe that the health of the coalition could have taken such a dramatic turn for the worst in such a short space of time, yet only just over two months later it seems the end is imminent; one of the males from the video above is dead, and the other two are emaciated, separated from each other, and seemingly just hanging on for a few more breaths.
In the sighting from yesterday, the Dark-maned male was being pestered by the hyenas, yet didn’t even make any move to attack them. Reportedly the only time he did make a move of any significance was when a large rhino bull approached, forcing the lion out of the shade in which he was lying. A male lion in his state would barely have the energy to do more than that, and would be ultra-conservative in his movements. He did at one point attempt to excavate a burrow in which a warthog must have been hiding, but nothing came of that.
We drove down to the sighting that evening in the hope that he may still be around, but in the rocky terrain movement in the vehicle was difficult, and we were forced to abandon the search. There is a whole series of hyena dens not far from where the male was seen, so at dusk he probably thought it more than prudent to move on.
The question now is what has happened to him?
A number of vehicles have revisited the area but there has been no sign of him for 36hrs. Likewise in the north, there has been no further sign of the Scar-nose male.
Despite the start of this year seeing a number of prominent lions dying, the first being the Tailed Tsalala female, it is never something one can simply get immune to as an observer. There is a certain amount of comfort that we can take in knowing how and where a lion we have spent so much time viewing, died. A simple disappearance and surmising of what happened denies us the closure that we find so important in death, even if it is the death of a wild animal.
The Majingilane were at Londolozi before I was, and have defined the lion dynamics in a large portion of the reserve for my entire life in the bush, and I have to admit that me driving around yesterday evening, searching for the Dark-maned male, had an element of selfishness to it. I think that after so long and so many sightings, although he wouldn’t have a clue who I was or even have the slightest concern for yet another green Land Rover, I felt it was important just to see him one last time, and silently say goodbye.