The End of a Era
The End of an Era
Herewith follows the events that led up to the death of a legend.
As I am sure you all know the Mapogos originally started out as an abnormally large coalition of six males. As the years progressed there was the disappearance, and alleged death, of one of the six Mapogos and the split of the remaining five into two separate factions. Three going, and staying, primarily south of the Sand River. Two coming and staying, primarily north of the previously mentioned Sand River. This event resulting in more permanent contact between the guides of the Northern Sabi Sand and the two lions known as Kinky Tail and Mr T.
Fast forward a few years ...
07 June 2010
Our evening game drive ends off north of Nkorho open area sitting with four of the five young male lions, estimated to be roughly 5 - 6 years old. The fifth allegedly still on a buffalo kill north of our cutline, that the young coalition had brought down two evenings prior. Up to this point we had only seen this pride a handful of times and usually only fleetingly. There was something this evening that was different to our previous encounters with the young males. It was almost as if a growing confidence could be sensed amongst the coalition. The events that would follow in the wee hours of the following morning signalled a possible shift in power amongst the lions of the northern Sabi Sands. At roughly 02h30 on 08 June 2010 the five young lions, for the first time, fully vocalised. Thunderous roars sounded across the open grasslands of the farm Nkorho. By morning and our departure for game drive, all was still. Only their tracks telling their story of a night full of activity, as they had virtually covered every square inch of Nkorho. Due to the presence of so many tracks heading off in so many different directions, we were unable to relocate on the five males. Instead, assuming they had crossed out of our traverse, we started to head in a westerly direction to try and assist on the relocation of two large male lions whose tracks had been picked up many kilometres west of our farm. The rangers were sure that the tracks they had were for two larger males which could only mean our two Mapogos had come north. As time went by it became more and more apparent that the sudden arrival of the Mapogos was most certainly in answer to the roars of the four younger males earlier that morning; as their tracks showed that the two lions had steadily made their way in an easterly direction headed straight towards Nkorho, and the possible location of the young coalition. The call came in on the radio that Kinky Tail and Mr T had just been detected and were heading in a north easterly direction across the north western edge of Nkorho open area hot on the heels of two young male lions. Unfortunately, shortly after their detection they crossed our northern cutline and moved out of sight. In the hours that followed partial sightings of the two big males were had as they zigzagged in and out of Nkorho up into a farm by the name of Torchwood then in a southerly direction back and forth between the Kruger National Park and ourselves. Suddenly, as if signalled by something too slight for human senses, the two dominant males cut back into Nkorho in a south westerly direction. The pace increased and there concentration levels peaked. The rigidity of their bodies showed that they had become incredibly focused. Their rate of movement made it impossible for the vehicle tailing them to stick with them as they entered a thick pocket of bush. The vehicle went around to a road running parallel to the one from which the lions had entered the block in the hope of re-establishing contact with the two big males on their exit from the very thick bush. The vehicle had not gone far when it spotted one of what it thought to be the two dominant males. It was only on approach, and due to the fact that Kinky Tail and Mr T suddenly popped out of the bush to the north of our position, that we realised the male lion lying tucked flat in the tall grass was one of the five younger males - perhaps the one lingering behind due to his late departure from the buffalo kill. At this point Kinky Tail and Mr T had not spotted the younger male but were definitely aware of his presence. Perhaps an earlier contact call, or the detection of the younger male's scent, had brought them within mere metres of the young rival. Kinky Tail and Mr T made their way onto the road and steadily in a southerly direction. Suddenly the two came to a standstill, sniffed the air and Kinky Tail slowly turned his gaze in the direction of the younger male. The air froze ... silence before the storm. In an explosion of power the two dominant males were out of the blocks and on top of the younger male. The few minutes that followed felt like a lifetime. The brutality of the encounter overpowered the senses. Thunderous roars and growls not enough to drown out the sound of breaking bone. Although the younger lion gave his all he never stood a chance. By the end of the battle both parties were clearly exhausted, panting profusely. Kinky Tail and Mr T lay down mere metres from the now disabled younger male as if to catch their breath. Now for the first time the damage caused by this encounter became apparent. It appeared as if the bones which we had clearly heard breaking were both hind legs of the younger male and from his posture, while trying to sit it seemed as if the pelvis was shattered. Massive lacerations and deep puncture wounds across his flanks and abdomen. The presence of blood streaming from his head and neck indicated massive injuries hidden by his not yet fully developed mane. Kinky Tail and Mr T, although victorious, did not escape unscathed. Puncture wounds on Kinky Tail's left front paw appeared massive roughly the width of an average human beings thumb and who knows quite how deep. He also carried a massive laceration above the left eye. Mr T also sustained reasonable amounts of damage to both front paws and his flanks. The encounter leaving him with a bloodied nose. Upon catching their breath the two Mapogos rose to their feet and approached the younger male, scent marking vigorously and roaring ferociously as if to enforce their dominance on him and the region. Two more brief spats developed in the following hours, but no real contact was made. The job had been done and there was no reward in risking further injury. The two lions spent the remainder of the day lying in the shade while the younger male, now immobilised, faced the fury of the direct African sun. By early evening infection of the young male's wounds had become apparent by the amount of swelling on his hind quarters. As darkness fell we sat in anticipation for what we all assumed would be a really vocal sighting of the two dominant males. But there was little activity from the two as they hobbled around scent marking, then lay close to each other tending one another's wounds. The roars never came. Instead an uneasy silence gripped the bush around us as if the Mapogos were listening for something. Perhaps the four young males that now remained had not left the area as we had presumed and now that Kinky tail and Mr T carried wounds they would return. This moment never came and eventually, we hesitantly started returning for dinner leaving the two Mapogos draped in darkness and all we could do was wonder. On approaching the lodge we spotted a shape way ahead on the road eyes reflecting like mirrors. Closer inspection instantly answered all questions, with one young male lying on the road the other three in the longer grass not far away. Could this be happening? Would it happen on Nkorho and would tonight be the night? Now a few hours late returning from drive we had to head for home. We would follow up in the morning, the tracks telling the story of the lions nocturnal activity. Seated in the boma for dinner the silence was deafening, lost in thought we made our way through starters. Suddenly breaking the silence the four young males roared followed by an instant response from the Mapogos. Spine chilling roars creating a sinking feeling in my stomach, and we flew out of the boma onto the game viewers and round to the front to pick up the guests. As we got onto the open area in front of Nkorho Bush Lodge we got our first visuals. Out of the tree line to the east came Kinky Tail head up short powerful roars announcing his presence with the four young males roaring back in defiance. The following seconds are a blur to me but what I do vividly recall is Kinky Tail increasing his pace until at full speed as if he carried no injuries at all. The four younger males turning and giving way. They flew past the front of our vehicle and down through the drainage line we struggled to keep up at one stage doing easily 60km/ph and being left behind. The lions turned west and ran along the road, the four males ahead and kinky tail right behind. As we dropped through another small drainage line and emerged on the other side, we were down to only three. Two of the younger coalition and Kinky right behind them, suddenly rival lions three and four were back on the road but now behind Kinky tail. The next few seconds are vague but what is clear is that Kinky Tail ran straight into the two leading lions, which by this time had turned to face him, with such force that he and the lion he hit head on virtually went head over heels. Lion two of the coalition tackled Kinky from behind and shortly there after lions three and four joined the fray. At this point Kinky's growls went from the low thunderous sounds we had become so accustomed to over the years to something higher pitched, something disturbing. He was in pain and I though, "could this really be the end?" For the next fifteen minutes the four young rivals tactically took Kinky Tail apart, before the arrival of Mr T. Where he had been I am not sure and his arrival was less the heroic, first stumbling through a hole and then approaching the tussle seeming unsure of what was happening as if he expected Kinky tail to be dominating the dispute. It was only once he realised that his brother was the lion losing the confrontation that he suddenly sparked into action immediately removing one of the four young rivals from the rear end of Kinky Tail and rolling him upside down then attacking him savagely. Quite frankly I never thought Mr T had it in him. At this point the possible destruction of one of the younger lions sparked a second into action which ran up to a now separated younger lion and Mr T. The two of them together tackled Mr T and he was now clearly losing the battle, a few seconds later he was free and running for his life with the two young rivals in toe. Off into the distance he ran until out of sight, one young lion in pursuit the other returning to a now doomed Kinky Tail. With the eventual return of the fourth lion there was no mercy for a helpless lamed Kinky Tail, climbing straight back in there as if Kinky Tail was still resisting. The exact brutality of this encounter could not be captured in words effectively but what I can tell is that by the sound of bones breaking they managed to break three of his four legs, his back in at least two places and there was major structural damage to his head and face. By the collapse of the left side of his face it looked as if they had broken the lower section of the orbital socket and there was a puncture wound in the head about as thick as a grown mans thumb and I'm assuming as deep as the average length of a male lions canine, roughly the length of your thumb. Off in the distance we could hear Mr T roaring. As if signalled the young rivals loosened there grip on a now still Kinky Tail and started moving in the direction of Mr T's roars, signalling their intention with triumphant roars of their own. We followed for a short while but when they entered a thicker pocket of bush we let them go intending on returning to Kinky tail. Wheeling our way back to the road the sound of the constant roars seemed to be coming closer. As we emerged back on the road the lions were ahead of us making there way back in the direction of Kinky Tail. As we got closer they started to run excitedly towards the downed lion and on arriving at his helpless body tackled him savagely. Kinky Tail still softly growled in defiance, but it was over. Once again in an attempt to avoid all the gory details the following twenty minutes I will only touch on briefly, the just of it being that it took Kinky the above mentioned twenty minutes to die all the time while three of the four were already feeding on his hind quarters, the forth still attacking his head and neck as if in a full on confrontation with a fit opponent, no mercy. Constant urination and vocalisation by the younger lions enforcing their dominance over their downed foe. By the time we left the sighting the young lions had eaten about a third of Kinky Tail and the big lion had taken his last breath. The end of an era. The darkness of night was filled with the constant roar of lions, in the far distance Mr T and closer to home the replies of the four young males. By morning all that remained was the blood stained earth, flattened grass and tattered remnants of a once magnificent mane. By the tracks left behind the rest carried off by the nocturnal scavengers that had visited the area. Kinky Tail was a lion that will long live in the memories of the rangers of the Sabi Sands. He and the Mapogos arrived with a bang so perhaps its best suited he went out with one. My practical mind understanding the sometimes brutal realities of nature, now for the first time finds it difficult to convince my heavy heart that this is the way it's meant to be. That nature takes its course - something I have explained to my guests on numerous occasions. As time goes by and we adapt to the changes things will return to normal. But like a long lost friend he will be missed.