The Disappearing Male
By Ryan Hillier

The last time he was seen, the South Male was in the east of the reserve, alongside the Blonde Male and the two Boschgift males. In fact, all were within a kilometre of one another and we believe it was a lioness coming into estrus that attracted the rivals into the same area. But, what happened thereafter is unknown…

Days became weeks, weeks have now become a month, and while the Blonde and Boschgift males have been seen relatively frequently, there has been no sign of the South Male. As a dominant male, being seen and, equally as important, being heard, is vital to him maintaining control over his enormous territory and the prides within. Both the North and the South Prides, which he usually controls, have also been seen frequently… but again with no sign of the South Male. His absence for so long can only mean one thing – that sadly, he is no more.

A question I have fielded repeatedly in my time here as a guide is, “What do you do when you find the bodies of dead animals?” The answer is exactly what has happened in this situation: more often than not, we don’t find them. We often only realise an animal has died because we simply don’t see them anymore. In such a vast area, there is a lot that goes on that we don’t know about, and scavengers can remove all traces left behind before we are aware what has taken place. It leaves us trying to piece together the most likely explanations after the fact, using what information we do have, as well as some educated guesses!


At the end of July, we found the South Male with fresh battle wounds on his face and initially were unsure if he’d lost his one eye in the fight. He seemed to heal nicely and his eye was still intact, and it certainly wasn’t the first time we’d seen him in the aftermath of a fight… but. as it turns out, it would be the last.

Clashes with the Blonde Male have happened before but, to the best of our knowledge, he hasn’t been involved in many for a little while. However, in recent months we have seen several scuffles between the South Male and the Boschgift Males, which have been escalating in intensity. These two males are young, still not yet three years old yet, but they are already big lions for such an age. They have wasted little time in making moves, clashing a few times with the South Male and have regularly been seen scent marking in a bid to claim territory.

If it was a fight that brought about the demise of the South Male, then the Boschgift Males are the more likely culprits. This would add an almost poetic element of revenge, in that their own father (the Dark Male) was actually killed by the South Male. That being said, if mating rights were the catalyst to a battle, then the Blonde Male is certainly not beyond suspicion.

Was the South Male killed outright in a fight, or did he succumb to his wounds later? Was it something entirely different, perhaps? An injury or clash sustained during a hunt on big prey, maybe a buffalo? Or was it simply that age eventually caught up with him? Born in 2008 he was 14 at the time of his disappearance, a very good innings by male lion standards.

We will never know exactly what happened to the South Male, or where he finally came to rest. What is very clear, however, is his lineage and the legacy that remains. Having been in control of both North and South Prides for the last six years, he has fathered a great many cubs, some of whom have become founding populations in places as far afield as Malawi, while others are still here on Kwandwe continuing his line here into the future.

It is the end of an era, that is for sure, but with territory and prides left wide open for the taking it is the start of another!