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The Mapogo coalition: How five lions ruled the Sabi Sands

This blog was written by Keegan Williams, a Bushwise Professional Field Guide student. Each student takes a turn as camp manager, and writing a blog is part of the experience.

3 min read

During a visit to the Kruger Park towards the end of 2018, I became very interested in the coalition of lions. These coalitions are formed to make it easier for them to fight, dominate other male lions and to hunt. I was particularly interested in the history of the infamous Sabi Sands Mapogo lion coalition who originated from the Eyrefield Pride and made their first appearance in March of 2006.

This coalition became known for their sheer power and strength and managed to take over an area of about 70 000 hectares of the Sabi Sand Reserve by moving in with great dominance and power killing the males in the area with ease.

They did what the lion population never does and that was to control and protect an expansive area of land reducing eight other prides to just one.

The Mapogo lion coalition was named after a South African security company, which was known for their heavy handling in dealing with criminals. The six male lions in the Mapogo coalition were named as follows: Makulu (meaning “big” in Zulu) who was the leader and not related to the other brothers. He joined the coalition as a four-year-old without resistance from the pride. Dreadlocks and Rasta were named for their specifically styled abundant manes. Pretty Boy was seen as being more pretty looking than his brothers, hence his name. Kinky Tail had a tightly curled tail and Mr T, whose mane was groomed in a natural mohawk style, was also known for his extreme brutality.

The Mapogo coalition killed over 100 lions, including females and cubs when taking over whole territories. They were extremely aggressive and would often eat their challengers. This behaviour was considered unnatural. In addition, these lions would kill their own cubs in case they were competition in the future and would eat them too. The Mapogos were responsible for the drastic decline in spotted hyena in the Sabi Sands.

As young lions, they left their pride in order to hunt, live and destroy other prides together. These lions dominated the Northern and Southern territories of Sabi Sands protecting each other. Rasta, Dreadlocks, Makulu and Pretty Boy formed one band guarding the southern side while Mr T and Kinky Tail guarded the North.

In 2010 a new pride of Manjigilane lions tried to take control of Sabi Sands. This led to a battle between them, Kinky Tail, and Mr T. During this battle, Kinky Tail was killed forcing Mr T to join his brothers in the South. This was the first time that he had been seen with the other brothers in about 2 years. As soon as Mr T came back he started killing the other cubs, as he wanted to mate with the other females and he wanted the pride to have his offspring.

In the next few months, the remaining five lions managed to fight off competition and take over new prides. However, things began to change when Rasta was killed in July 2010 by a young Manjigilane coalition. Dreadlocks never returned from a night patrol and it is believed that he had been killed by poachers or possibly another coalition.

In March 2012, Mr T was killed by the Selati pride. Two male lions from Kruger Park killed Makulu in January 2013. It is not known how Pretty Boy died but it is believed that he could have died of starvation as the last time rangers had seen him he appeared weak and thin.

This rare coalition of six cannibalistic lions ruled by fear and wiped out prides that posed a threat to them, between 2006 and 2013. The Mapogo lions of Sabi Sands will forever be known as the majestic beasts that once ruled the wild.

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