The Notorious Mapogo Lions of the Sabi Sand Game Reserve

Mapogo Lions Sabi Sands Kruger Park - Wikipedia

Source – Wikipedia – Nette Pa’trice – Mapogo Lions drinking at Leopard Hills

The infamous Mapogo Lions of the Sabi Sands have become legends in their own right due to their impressive dominance of the area for 6 years, but also because of the violent and shocking way that they gained control of their territory and held it over the following years. Their reign included cannibalism and infanticide and they are rumoured to be responsible for killing as many as 40 ( some say around 100 )8 lions ( which includes other males, females and cubs ).

Their strong coalition was rare in the fact that it included 6 male lions which is not often seen. They often boisterously entered new territories roaring loudly to challenge the resident males.

These lions created a mixture of emotions from love, adoration, fear, respect and loathing among the guides and guests of viewed them. Do you remember the Mapogos, leave us a message in the comment section below, we would love to hear your recollections of them.

Who were the Mapogo Males And How Did They Get Their Names?

The Mapogo lions were also known as the Eyrefield Males, the Sparta Males and sometimes the “Cannibals”.

A common story for how they got their names is that they were named Mapogo after a security company, “Mapogo A Mathamaga Security” ( no longer in operation ) that utilised rather harsh methods when dealing with offenders.

“Mapogo” can be thought of as the “Vigilantes” 3 or “Rogues” 4

Another version of this is that “Mapogo” is a siSwati word for a group working/operating together for greater security.

Makhulu

Born in 1998 and is the oldest member of the Mapogos and the outside lion who joined the 5 brothers. He was also one of the last two remaining Mapogo lions.

Makhulu means “Big” or “Impressive” in the Zulu and Xhosa African languages. He was given this name because he was a huge lion that was larger and older then the other 5 brothers. He had a magnificent black mane.

Mapogo Lions Pretty Boy

Pretty Boy

Originating from the Sparta pride – Pretty Boy was one of the two last remaining Mapogo Lions.

Pretty Boy was a magnificent male lion specimen and so garnered this nickname.

Mapogo Lions Mr T

Mr T (Satan)

Mr T had a very unique mohawk mane which made him distinctive and why he was named after the A-Team’s similarly mohawked character.

He was given the nickname “Satan” after he returned to his four coalition members territory and proceeded to kill his own brother’s cubs, as he had not been part of the breeding in that area of the park.

Satan was killed by the Southern Pride on the Mackenzie cutline.

Skew Spine/Scarred Male

This Mapogo had a very distinctive scar on his back left hip and spine.

Mapogo Lions Rasta

Dreadlocks/Rasta

Rasta had got something caught in his mane which created a section that looked just like a dreadlock.

Mapogo Lions - Rasta Dreadlocks

Mapogo Lions Kinky Tail

Kinky Tail

Kinky Tail had a kink is his tail which rangers and trackers used to identify him.

Mapogo Lions - Kinky Tail

Kinky Tail was killed by the Majingilane males.

How did Makhulu fit in?

The story goes that the Sparta pride lost a sub adult male of about 20-21 months of age in May/June of 2000 and in July of the same year the male that would be known as Makhulu latched onto the original pride and became a kind of big brother to the other 5.

He was barely tolerated by the Sparta pride and had a difficult life as an outcast. However he became one of the boldest and most valued hunters in the pride and some think he was the leader of the Mapagos.

Londolozi sometimes calls Makhulu “Ngalalalekha” which means “Lion King”.7

Makhulu is said to be bigger and darker than the other Mapogos and is thought to have fathered most of the Mapogo’s original cubs.

The above video is of Makhulu mating with a lioness.

Where did the Mapogo Lions come from?

Mapogo Lions By Mike Bird

Mapogo Lions By Mike’s Bird – Flickr

The Mapogo lions were born out of the Sparta pride* in the summer of 2001/2002. The Sparta pride ( named after one of the farms that formed part of their territory – this farm is better known as Londolozi and borders Mala Mala )

*The Sparta pride was also known as the Mala Mala “Eyrefield Pride”

The Mapogos were 5 brothers from the Sparta Pride and were joined by one large outsider lone male ( Makhulu ) which had come from the Kruger National park a few years before and joined the Sparta pride.

This coalition of 6 males moved west in 2004 to start their bid for territory and managed to become the dominant force in the area for 6 years.

Is it normal to have so many lions in a coalition?

Not usually. But the Kruger Park area and specifically the Sabi Sands Reserve within the Kruger National Park has been known to produce mega prides for sometime now.

Why? One reason could be that the Sabi Sands area is extremely productive for predators due to an abundance of prey. This and other reasons have led the lions to operate in smaller than usual territories that are still productive enough.

Possibly because of these smaller territories the coalitions need added security and power in order to hold their territories for a successful amount of time.1

A mega pride usually consists of four or five dominant male lions, the Mapogos coalition consisted of 6 large male lions!

The Mapogo males were sired by a coalition of 5 lions known as The West Street Males aka The Sparta Males.

In the Beginning

When the brothers were first kicked out of the Sparta pride and forced to fend for themselves they often resorted to scavenging from female lionesses. They would chase lionesses off a kill and try to get their fill as quickly as possible before the dominant males in the territory could chase them off.

Eventually they became proficient hunters specialising in Buffalos but they also killed Hippos, young Rhino, Giraffe and other general prey.

The sight of 6 male lions hunting together was truly thrilling!

Dave Salmoni, a large predator expert, attributes the Mapogos large size and power to their success at hunting buffalo.

First Territory

In 2006 the Mapogos entered the Northern Sabi Sands to challenge the resident 4 member strong lion coalition.

In unique fashion ( which they later became famous for ) they entered enemy territory roaring loudly and marking the territory as their own.

The Mapogo males were too strong and after killing one of the northern males the other three abandoned their territory, leaving it to the Mapogos. This was their first battle in a war for territory within the park.

From this first victory the Mapogos aggressively expanded their claim and challenged any dominant males within their range.

Most of their rivals followed their instincts and ran from the overwhelming odds presented by the 6 “brothers”. If they did not run and they were caught, the Mapogos would kill and often eat their opposition.

Cub Killers

Beating out the dominant male lions is only the first part of successfully holding a new territory. Whenever new males take over a territory they often kill all the cubs below a certain age, and may even kill the lionesses if they defend those cubs too aggressively.

This is to ensure that their lineage and offspring is the one being promoted by the pride, rather than that of the ousted males.

This is one of the most visible examples of survival of the fittest taking place. The cubs of the weaker male lion are killed off and with that his genetic heritage. This is replaced by the genes and offspring of the superior male.

The other reason for the males to kill the cubs is that once the females do not have any suckling cubs they will soon go into oestrus which will allow them to mate with the new males and breed again.

This is the fastest way for new dominant males to begin siring their own offspring.

The Mapogo Lions Territory Map

Mapogo Lions Territory

Is Cannabalism and Infanticide common among lions?

Infanticide or the killing of young cubs is quite common when a new male/s takes over an area or pride of lions. This is usually done by the males, but lionesses have also been known to kill young cubs.

Note: This has been recorded in a number of species throughout the animal kingdom, most notably among primates, as well as dolphins and meerkats.

Cannibalism, however, is not common although it is seen from time to time in Lions. This is one of the reasons the Mapogo lions have become so famous as they were renowned for this.

Becoming Fathers.

The Mapogos are thought to have fathered cubs in the Tsalala pride, Ottawa pride and Sand River pride and it is likely that they have fathered cubs in other prides as well.

As the other Mapogos aged they began to father cubs of their own as well, not just Makhulu.

What was the age difference between the Mapogo Males?

Oldest unrelated male: born 1998

Two oldest related males: born 2001

Middle male: born 2001/2002

Two youngest males: born 2002

Mapogo Lions Sabi Sands By Mike Bird

Mapogo Lions By Mike’s Bird – Flickr

Cannabalistic Mapogos

In February 2007 the Mapogos brutally killed a lion called “Rocky” aka the Serengeti/Kruger male and then proceeded to eat him.

In June 2007 a split in the coalition had occurred due to a fight between Mr T and Makhulu, this split was only temporary. During this split the 5 related Mapogos killed Makhulu’s ( the oldest unrelated member ) cubs belonging to the Othawa lionesses.

In December 2007 the Mapogo males went up against the two Kahuma males of Arathusa Safari Lodge. The Kahumas came off second best. Later that day one of the Kahuma males was found badly injured and unable to move with the Mapogo males less than 200 metres away. The Mapogo males were mating with two of the females from the Styx pride — previously ruled by the Kahuma males.

The next day the remains of this Kahuma male was found badly mauled.5

A coalition that affected the entire ecosystem.

Reports tell a story of how the Mapogo lions decimated the lion population of the Sabi Sands, seriously affecting the entire eco system.

Londolozi reported 5 prides affected:

Castleton Pride: originally 22 down to 6.

Tsalala Pride: originally 10 down to 5.

Ximunvanyane Pride: originally 10 down to 0.

Elephant Plains reported that almost 40% of the lion population had been killed by the Mapogo Coalition.

This means they killed around 40 – 50 lions.2

According to Willem Botha, who was the Assistant Warden and Head of Anti Poaching in Sabi Sands during the time of the Mapogo’s reign, the Mapogos killed closer to 100 lions.

“From the time I first saw them until I left the Sabi Sands, the Mapogos killed between 90 and 110 other lions in the park. I also had to shoot approximately 15 lions that were so badly mauled by the Mapogos that their spines were severed and had to be  put out of their misery.”8

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Anybody remember the famous Mapogo Gang of marauding male lions in the Sabi Sand a number of years back? The Mapogo were extremely effective at dominating the territory they stayed in, and in particular there was an individual male who had a nasty reputation for killing adult females who wouldn't mate with him. This photo was taken when the coalition of 6 was down to only 3, and only a few short months after this photo was taken one of them was killed by another coalition in an extremely brutal way. If you know the story, good for you, but it's not a nice way to end your life. Mr T. Had his testicles chewed off and his spine was severed, and for a brief few days the video was all over YouTube before it was removed due to being overly violent. Makhulu, Pretty Boy and Mr. T were the remaining 3 of the original 6 in the coalition. #Mapogo #sabisands #sabisand #safari #lion #southafrica #wild #wildlife #wildlifephotography #nature #animals #bigcat

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A Whittling of the Mapogos

Overtime all lion coalitions start to fade as its members get older and as one or two of their members are killed off as younger, stronger coalitions try their luck to win over territory.

The Londolozi area was often patrolled by two of the brothers, Mr T’ and Kinky Tail.

In 2010 a coalition of 5 males called the Majingilanes entered the Mapogo’s territory to begin their challenge and eventually take over. During a buffalo hunt Kinky Tail and Mr T were able to separate one of the new males and began killing him.

The young male’s groin was ripped open. Finally Kinky Tail and Mr T managed to break the Majingilane lion’s spine. He was paralysed and left to die. During the fight the young male managed to rake Mr T’s face and bite his ear.

The death of Kinky Tail


During the same night the 4 other Majingilane lions were seen on the move, hunting down Kinky Tail. He had been led into a trap by two of the new males until he was surrounded by all four challengers. They managed to pin him down, one biting his neck, another his back while a third bit off Kinky Tail’ s testicles and genitalia. They finally snapped his spine.

Mr T tried to rescue Kinky Tail and fight off the Majingilanes but he was greatly outnumbered and had to retreat.

Two of the young lion’s attempted to track and follow after Mr T but were unsuccessful, so they returned to finish off Kinky Tail.

Echoing the Mapogos own cannabalism the 4 lions started eating Kinky Tail’s hind legs and tail. He was being eaten alive.6

Mr T returned to the rest of the coalition. He had not been part of the breeding in the Singita area and proceeded to kill all the cubs in the Western block. This earned him the nickname “Satan”.

Over the next three years another two coalition members disappeared without trace.

The End of The Mapogo’s Reign.

Finally in 2012 the strong Southern Pride clashed with the Mapogos once again and this time they had the advantage. The Mapogos ran retreating to the Savanna property.

To rebuild their strength they hunted the large herd of Buffalo in the area. On one such buffalo kill the Southern Pride managed to relocate them. The Southern Pride males managed to split the Mapogos and went after Mr T.

They finally caught him on the Mackenzie cutline near Savanna’s western boundary. The one Mapogo lion was no match for the four young Southern Pride males. They paralysed him by biting through his spine and then proceeded to tear him apart.

The last remaining Mapogos retreated to Dudley far in the east.

The two remaining Mapogos were Makhulu ( 15 ) and Pretty Boy ( 12 )

What happened next?

As with everything in the wild, nature keeps moving. A new force was starting to show its head, namely the Majingilane Males who would become the Mapogo’s successors.

In 2012 the last two Mapogos were seen together entering the Kruger National Park through the Paul Kruger gate. They were seen again feeding on a buffalo in the same year during October.

Makhulu was seen one last time in January 2013 alone in Mala Mala. Makhulu would have been 16 years old at the time.

Read more about the Majingilane Males.

The Mapogos generated mixed emotions from those who encountered them. They were described as sadistic and remorseless because of their brutal nature and cannabalism.

At the same time their strength and dominance created a safe haven for their own young and a certain stability in the area for a number of years while they ruled supreme.

We would love to hear your thoughts and memories of the Mapogo lions so please comment below.

Note: Specific animal and pride names can sometimes become confusing when discussing big cats in the Sabi Sands Game Reserve as different lodges have different names for the animals which tend to traverse across large areas of land in the reserve.

  1. Courteney Blunden – The Mapogo Lions Heritage
  2. Wildearth.tv – The Mapogo story.
  3. Name from Savana Lodge
  4. Mapogo is said to be a Zulu word meaning Rogues.
  5. From the Arathusa newsletter Dec 14, 2017
  6. Wikipedia Entry – Mapogo Lions
  7. Mak Mapogo
  8. First Hand Account of How the Mapogo Males Impacted the Lion Population in Sabi Sand