The Last Battle

Kruger National Park | May 2017

What an unbelievable morning! The temperature was cool and the mist was thick. We had found the fresh footprints of two male lions in the road, heading in a northerly direction. We drove past a herd of elephants (it is always great to see elephants in the mist. Massive dark shadows in the grey). We carried on following the male lion tracks. From the way the back footprint lay far in front of the front paw print (the back paw was overstepping the front) we could tell that the two lions were running fast. After a while of following the tracks we eventually got a glimpse of the two maned brothers up ahead. They were two large adult lions. We know these lions as the Rogue Males and they are quite shy of the vehicles. These two male lions have recently been pushing into the concession, chasing the younger males in the area. The two Rogue Males were still headed north and they had already gone quite deep into the Shish Males territory (the dominant male coalition in our concession). They were roaring loudly. As soon as the lions saw us they moved away from the road into the thick bush to the west. We lost sight of them and so we carried on driving a little further up the road, hoping that they would come back a bit closer so that we could get better views of them. It was a little bit disappointing that after tracking them for such a long distance that we only managed to get a brief view as they disappeared into the vegetation. We were on one of the public roads and were therefore not able to follow them into the bush. We soon saw another vehicle approaching from up ahead. It was some other tourists and I waved them to stop. As they slowed down I told the driver to keep a careful lookout in the area and told him that we had just seen two lions moving away from the road. This tourist then told us that a little further up the road he had seen four other lions that had been lying in the middle of the road, but they had also disappeared into the thick vegetation and the gentleman had lost visual of them. We decided to carry on driving to where he had seen the lions and when we got there we could see the imprints in the sand where the cats had been lying. The tracks of these lions had headed in a south-westerly direction. They were obviously going straight towards where the other lions had disappeared. We turned the car around and started to head south again, hoping that we would be able to get another view of the lions. We stopped again and that is when we heard the lions calling. The lions were roaring loudly from within the bushes quite close to where we were. Chantelle had also just arrived in the area and she carried on driving a little further down the road. She then spoke on the radio and announced that she could see the original two male lions running in the road ahead of her. They were racing fast, back towards the south (back the way that they had originally come from). Chantelle then called in on the radio saying that there were now six male lions running down the road in front of her.

The four Shish males had come out of the bush behind the Rogue males and were now chasing after them. The Grumpy Shish Male was struggling to keep up with the other three as they chased the two intruders. He was limping, due to his gammy back leg, but still continued to follow on behind them, roaring as he tried to catch up. All six lions were now roaring loudly. It was an incredible sound! I quickly caught up to Chantelle as she was following the lions that were running fast down the road towards the south. It was amazing to see the six large males running down the road into the thick mist. It was marvellous and the sound of their roaring was incredible! The Rogue Males were running for their lives and the Shish Males were right behind them. The lions then turned off the road and headed into the Singita Concession. The Shish Males seemed as though they were catching up to the Rogue Males as all the lions ran across the open grasslands towards the south. The Shish Males continued to chase the Rogues across the open grasslands. The Rogues were now crossing the Gumba drainage and the Shish Males were close on their tail. As soon as the two Rogue Males had crossed the drainage the Shish Males seemed to decide that they had pushed the intruders out of their territory and they turned around and started walking north again. The two Rogue Males saw the Shish Males retreating and this boosted their confidence. It was now that they made their biggest mistake! They started chasing after the Shish Males, straight back into Shish territory. The four Shish Males were headed north again across the open grassland and the two Rogue Males started giving chase. We followed the lions as they ran past a large breeding herd of elephants. The elephants trumpeted and gave a few mock charges towards the lions. We decided that it would not be too wise to get close to the elephants, as they could decide to take out their wrath on the vehicles instead. We took quite a wide detour around the herd of elephants and when we caught up to the lions again we could see that the Shish Males were reconsidering their options again. They turned around and started to chase the two males once more. How dare the intruders chase them around in their own territory! All six lions were running south across the grasslands again. They headed past the elephant herd again and the elephants once again trumpeted and stared at the lions as they passed. We caught up to the lions near the Gumba Drainage again and the Shish Males were catching up to the intruders. The two Rogues made their way through the dip and over the ridge south of Dumbana Pool, with the Shish Males right behind them. Sean was driving right behind the lions as they headed off the road into the bush again. I was close behind when Sean called on the radio, saying that the Shish Males had just caught up to one of the Rogues.

The One-eyed Shish Male was already fighting with the Rogue and the other three Shish males were just arriving at the scene. Chaos ensued! It was a blur of movement as the four Shish Males climbed into the Rogue Male, hitting and biting at him. The sound of the growling and fighting was intense! The Rogue Male was trapped and surrounded, and was taking quite a beating. Four against one. The odds were not good for the intruder. The four Shish males attacked relentlessly, biting the intruder and hitting him hard with their paws and claws. We could see the blood on the mouth of the Shish males as they bit the Rogue. He tried to defend himself, but he stood no chance. One of the Shish Males got a good grip on the inner thigh of the Rogue. The intruder tried to fight back, but was taking serious injuries from the four males who were surrounding him and launching attacks at him. He was in big trouble now. One of the Shish Males hit him hard on the spine and it appeared that his back legs collapsed under him. It was possible that they had now broken his spine. Another of the Shish Males bit into his inner thighs again and went for his groin. It was obvious that they were going to kill him! As they climbed into him again we noticed a male elephant approaching. He was obviously not happy with all the commotion going on and charged towards the lions. Two of the Shish males made a quick retreat away from the elephant but the other two continued attacking the unfortunate Rogue. The elephant trumpeted at the lions and mock-charged again, stopping short of the lions and staring down at them. Eventually after a bit more skirmishing the four Shish Males moved off, following after where the other Rogue Male had headed. I decided to leave the area then. The injured male was in a really bad way. Just before I left the area I watched as the Rogue male tried to lift himself up and collapsed again. His back legs were just not supporting him. My last view of him was as he was trying to drag himself towards the shade of a large leadwood tree. There were lots of thoughts going through my mind and obviously through the minds of the guests that had witnessed the fight. The Shish Males were unable to find the other Rogue and then returned to finish off the first. I heard later from the guides that they had attacked him again. It was a very vicious attack. Eventually the four Shish Males went and lay in the shade and the Rogue dragged himself to the base of the leadwood tree.

I did not go to the area in the afternoon, but the next morning I passed by the region. The Rogue Male was dead and his body was still lying under the tree. We came across the four Shish males a few kilometres to the north. They were resting on the northern bank of the N’wanetsi River. The One-Eyed Male (the male that had originally caught up to the Rogue and started attacking him) was looking very sore. His front right paw was seriously swollen and he was having difficulty putting any weight on it. One of the other males had some fresh scars and scratches on his face. The morning after that, Sean and Jacques headed back to the area and found a clan of hyenas feeding on the carcass of the lion. There were numerous vultures perched in the trees waiting for their turn. That morning we found tracks of the other Rogue Male heading straight towards the Mozambique border. We wondered what was going to happen to him now that he had lost his coalition partner. We also wondered whether he would grieve the loss of his brother and friend.

Other interesting sightings this month include a few sightings of porcupines, large and small-spotted genets, African wild cat, African civets and even a sighting of a white-tailed mongoose. One morning Jani reported seeing at least ten large crocodiles feeding on a waterbuck at Dumbana Pools. The crocodiles were being harassed by a small pod of hippos that resides there. Another day Margaux went to the Sweni Hide to watch some birds with her guests. While they were there they witnessed crocodiles leaping up out of the water, trying to catch queleas that were flying over. What an amazing sighting!

Images by Sean Bissett