The Tailless female has succumbed to her wounds.
Her body was discovered at Marthly Pools, on the banks of the Manyelethi River, within metres of where her mother was also discovered when she died in 2013 at almost exactly the same age.
Don Heyneke messaged me yesterday to tell me that her body had been found; pretty much at the same place where she was seen injured just over a week ago. It seems likely that she hardly moved at all from that spot, and at some point she would have simply drifted into unconsciousness for the last time.
When I heard of her death, I didn’t really know how to feel.
This was something the Londolozi rangers and trackers always knew was likely to happen this year, yet being confronted by the reality left me with a kind of numbness. It wasn’t so much a sense of grief, but rather incomprehension.
The realisation that I will be returning from leave to a Londolozi without either of the Tsalala sisters roaming it was something I couldn’t quite wrap my head around for awhile. Two lionesses who have helped shape my understanding of lions, their population dynamics and their place in an African wilderness are no more, and especially in the context of human wildlife-viewing, the world is poorer for their loss.
Since 2002 the soft footfalls of the two senior Tsalala females trod the game paths and dirt tracks of Londolozi and its surrounding reserves; their offspring delighted visitors from all over the world, and their daily struggles were front and centre in the ever changing saga that is the Lions of Londolozi.
And now just like that, the Tsalala pride is practically gone. One single lioness, a daughter of the Tailed female’s litter of 2013, stands as the only bastion of hope for this pride. Even the word “pride” is a misnomer now, as only one female doesn’t qualify for that title. Her three brothers that have recently returned and been accompanying her are unlikely to remain in the area, but the Tsalala lions have surprised us before, so I won’t be making any predictions just yet.
Whatever the fate of the pride’s name, if one examines the history of the Tailless lioness and her sister, both can rest content, with around 20 of their offspring and descendants currently healthy and roaming the Sabi Sand Reserve, with even more than that possibly still alive and well in the Greater Kruger Park.
As a reproductive entity, an organism needs to reproduce itself and have that offspring reproductively viable in order to consider itself a genetic success, and the Tsalala lionesses have done that many times over.
I don’t want to turn this into a biology lesson, but while we may mourn the death of the Tailless female, and grieve the passing of a truly iconic period in the annals of the Lions of Londolozi, we can be immensely grateful to this incredible lioness and her sister. Whilst simply doing what they as lionesses were programmed to do, they furthered their species’ interests and secured their own legacy in spectacular fashion.
Modern technology is incredible. Never before have trackers, guides and lodges been able to document and share information in the way that they do now with email, Watsapp, or any one of twenty other different means. Pride movements, wild dog ranges, leopard cub updates; all are logged and communicated. Should a dramatic incident take place, it’s seldom long before the airwaves are buzzing with the news.
Yet never before in my 8 years in the bush have I seen such a collective sadness as when the news of the Tailless female’s death broke yesterday. Messages were flying through the bush, and rangers from multiple lodges I know were communicating with each other what happened, their condolences, and general good wishes in the wake of the passing of this lioness.
I find it wonderful that yesterday evening in Londolozi and the Sabi Sand Reserve as a whole, with the temperatures in the single digits, the night sky emblazoned with stars and the distant roars of the Birmingham males filtering through the chill, rangers and trackers and various staff all gathered together to have a quiet drink in celebration of the life a truly remarkable lion.