Sunday, 14 June 2009

13th June - …and then there were six; Sohebele lioness Killed

Just as we were starting to get over the tragic departure of our beloved male leopard, Mangadjane, we get hit with another heartbreaking loss. This time the cause of the death was natural, but it doesn’t make it any easier for the guides of Motswari and the Timbavati that have watched this magic lioness over the last eight years. Late on Saturday evening, one of the Sohebele lionesses breathed her last breathe following a severe attack by the three Mathlathini male lions.
We were sitting with the seven members of the Sohebele pride at Argyle dam, not 2km from our camp, on Saturday afternoon, and after some time, a herd of buffalo appeared from the south and entered the basin of the empty dam to graze on the grass. The pride of lions lay in the open and watched the buffalo approach slowly. The large buffalo bulls in the front of the herd soon became aware of the lions presence and proceeded to slowly move closer. The Sohebele pride are terrible buffalo hunters, and almost never pursue buffalo herds like a pride of lions their size should. Thus, as the buffalo approached, the lions looked on cautiously, and when the front of the herd was about 40m away from them, the young male lions lost their nerve and jumped up to move to safer ground, the whole pride followed and moved back about 30m before lying down again to watch the buffalo.
The buffalo bulls realized they had the upper hand and moved in once more, and after a similar scenario, the pride of lions moved up the steep embankment and went and lay on the dam wall, where they continued to watch the buffalo. The stalemate persisted for some time before the buffaloes were satisfied that they had seen off the lions, and headed back to the south. The Sohebele pride just lay there watching.
It did not take too long for this pleasant situation to turn ugly. The three Mahlathini male lions had been in the area, and were no doubt drawn closer by the smell and sounds of the buffalo, and when they arrived in the immediate vicinity, spotted the other lions and decided to do something about this (even though, rightfully, it is the Sohebele prides territory, and the Mahlathini males are the intruders). We didn’t see the three males approaching until the Sohebele pride spotted them and jumped up to run off, across the concrete portion of the dam wall. The Mahlathini males pursued them with speed and caught them before they had crossed the dam wall. It was getting dark, so we couldn’t see exactly what happened, but we raced around and found one of the adult female lions running to the north, so stopped and turned off to see where the others were, and that is when we heard the vicious growls of fighting lions coming from the Motswari airstrip a few hundred meters to our east!

We raced over to see what was going on but initially found no lions, although we could clearly smell they had been there; the smell of fresh excrement told the story. It was not long before one of the land owners found the lions. It was a radio call I had for some reason not been expecting: “I found the lions………….these three male lions are busy killing one of the females”. My heart just sank. I reluctantly asked if he knew which female, and I was told it was one of the adult lionesses. I was stunned, how had that happened? And more importantly why had it happened? I could not bring myself to go and watch this lioness be killed, so I simply turned around and went back to camp. When I stopped listening to the radio, the lioness was still alive and the three males had stopped attacking her, but she was apparently in a bad way. Johannes went past a bit later after the males had earlier left her, but he found that they had returned to finish the job. Our beloved Sohebele lioness was dead.

In the morning, her body lay motionless on the southern end of our airstrip; her pride were obviously too scared to return to look for her, or maybe they knew that it was already too late. It was a sad sight to see, such a beautiful creature lying there…dead…gone forever. There was almost no blood visible; a few scratches, a bloated belly possibly still carrying cubs that will sadly not enter this world, but no obviously fatal wounds. Her injuries must have been internal, but I am glad that she did not have to suffer for too long through the night.
It was a strange thing to happen; male lions are not normally interested in killing females, they usually wish to chase off other males and fight with them, preferring instead to mate with the females. Perhaps the female’s pregnant state is what caused the attack, or perhaps it was just an overly aggressive reaction to a competitor, but whatever the cause, the outcome was not a desired one for us.

Fortunately it was not the lioness with the new born cubs, but this mother will now have to try and raise the cubs on her own which will not be an easy task at all. It is difficult enough to hunt with two only two lions, but to have to hunt on her own now will test her abilities to the utmost. While the remaining adult female is with the five sub adults, she might enjoy some hunting success, but how long will the five sub adults be able to hang around? There is the pressure that is brought on from the two Klaserie males in the north, and fathers of the cubs, and now there is a very real and serious threat from the Mahlathini males (this despite their comparatively amicable first meeting between these two groups of lions). Will the pride ever feel safe in their old territory? Will the remaining adult lioness still come into the area knowing what those males did to her sister, especially now that she has cubs to look after? Will the Mahlathini males tolerate the sub adults wandering around in the same area, or will a similar fate await them? There would also only be one outcome should these males ever find the new cubs.

So, 2009 continues to be a really tough year for our Sohebele pride of lions, and we are not even halfway through it! We can only hope that they can recover from this tremendous setback and bounce back like they always seem to do…or is this one downfall too many? Once again, we have to wait on dear old Time and her devices to show how this whole scenario pans out, but with a bit of luck (or a great deal, actually), the pride will be able to pull through and continue to provide us with many more wonderful memories for a long time to come. We shall just have to wait and see…
R.I.P my friend....taken five minutes before she was attacked and killed...


  1. hey chad

    i came to motswari with my mum 2 bros and sister around this time last year and stayed for a week i could of stayed there for much longer!I have now fallen in love with timbavati! and am saving up to go again. Was just wondering if the 15 old male lion was still around? and how mac the elephant is doing? and is john still there? as he was our guide for the week! Hopefully we will be back to motswari in the future. Take care. x.x


  2. am also sorry to hear about the lioness it is very sad! is the sohebele pride the pride with the old male lion?

    carly x

  3. Morning Carly

    Glad that you and your family enjoyed your stay at Motswari and are keen to come, the Timbavati is a special place!

    Yes, its very sad about our female, but the whole prides problems started whent he aging Sohebele male abandoned his pride in December 2008; he just walked away and never returned to them. For three months we saw no sign of him, so assumed he was dead, but then he reappeared in April and spent about a month in the area before moving off again. He hasnt been seen for a couple of weeks, but just yesterday morning the guides followed tracks for a male lion that they were sure was the Sohebele male, but he the tracks wandered off the property, so he wasnt found....but keep a lookout on the blog, i will defintely post any information we have on him and what happens to our dear Sohebele pride.

    Thanks for the meassage!


  4. Thankyou we have all been wondering if he was still going strong :) is there any reason you think as to why he keeps leaving the pride?


  5. he was very old Carly, so i suspect he just realised his time had come....maybe he had had an encounter with the two new Klaserie males that moved into the north (and subsequently mated with the Sohebele females), although no pride take over appeared to have taken place...

    it upset the whole balance of the lions in the north...and since the sohebele male has moved off, the klaserie males havent even bothered coming into the area which is strange...that big gap allowed three new young male lions to come in, and they seem to have settled down and made themselves at home...they are the ones that killed the Sohebele female on Saturday night...