A saga for the ages

Mlowathi male roaring by Andrew Batchelor

This battle between the Mlowathi males and the 5 young male lions from the Kruger National Park took place over a few days (8 – 11 June). It was a fight for dominance based on revenge, and one that ended (predictably) in bloodshed.

Although the action took place just north of MalaMala, the implications will have far reaching effects. On the night of the 7th the two Mlowathi brothers moved north. At the same time the five young male lions were making their way south after finishing a buffalo kill in the north.

During the early hours of the 8th, the two Mlowathi boys caught up with the five intruders, and started a battle that would last two days. The brothers attacked the Kruger Park lions, who then very quickly took off. The older, darker maned male was caught by the two dominant lions and severely mauled. His leg was broken and spine snapped, and he died from his injuries a short while later. They then roared their dominance out across the frosty morning before finding some shade to rest in.

That evening the rowdy pair was preparing to move west when the four brothers approached them from behind. They had returned to avenge their brother’s death. Caught unawares, the Mlowathi males hightailed it out of the area. But the four young lions proved too fast for them, and before long they’d caught ‘Kinky Tail’ and mauled him to within an inch of his life. They then left him and went after his brother, ‘Mohawk’. He was also caught, but managed to escape before too much harm could be inflicted. He kept running and crossed into MalaMala in the early hours of the 9th.

The four Kruger National Park brothers then returned to where they had left ‘Kinky Tail’, and finished him off. Not satisfied with just killing one of the legendary Mapogo male lions, they then proceeded to eat him too. Although cannibalism is extremely rare among lions, it does happen. Especially in situations where there is a quest for dominance. Once the Kruger brothers had finished feeding on ’Kinky Tail’, they moved south again and crossed into MalaMala on the 9th. During that same afternoon rangers found the remaining Mlowathi male at Mlowathi Dam. He looked fit enough and didn’t appear to have any serious injuries – at least none that could be seen. Having not yet realized what happened to his brother, ‘Mohawk’ roared through the night as he searched for him.

On the 10th he was still in the exact same spot, and continued roaring throughout the day and night, still hoping his brother would hear him. Late in the evening of the 10th, roaring was heard coming from the east in response to each of the remaining Mlowathi brother’s roars. Rangers rushed to find where the roars were coming from, and found three of the younger brothers lying in Ostrich Koppies Road at the junction of Rhino Walk. The fourth brother was spotted in the bush, a little further away. Tensions rose with each passing roar, giving the distinct impression that an all out war might well be imminent.

On the morning of the 11th, the rangers rushed back out to find the two parties and to see what had happened during the night. ‘Mohawk’ was nowhere to be seen, but tracks indicated he had gone north. The four brothers were still lying in the same spot, but had been joined by the lead female of the Styx pride sometime during the night. She was lying off to one side with the most dominant of the four males, and the pair was mating periodically. Just as evening settled in and the three blonde males started to move off, one of them spotted a pangolin and tried in vain to eat it. The male that was mating then began roaring, and soon his three brothers returned and joined in. When rangers left the area all five lions were roaring, and one very nervous pangolin was still rolled in a tight ball.

With the reign of the Mlowathi males coming to such an abrupt end, the lion dynamics have been thrown wide open. For now however, the most pressing concern is the tiny Eyrefield cubs and the new Styx cubs. Only time will tell, but given what’s happened, it doesn’t look good for them.

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