Lions are very capable apex predators that can hunt and kill most things that live in their range. They also have an interesting social structure that lends itself to infighting and pressure from outside over territory. Sometimes, all that power, aggression, and social strife can lead to stories of lions that are even more entertaining than television dramas. In one case, the world’s deadliest lions reigned over 250 square miles of the Kruger National Park in South Africa, killed up to 100 other lions, and were among the most brutal lions ever observed. Today, we’re looking at the rise and fall of the Mapogo lion coalition.
A Brief Overview of Lion Prides
Lions tend to live and hunt in pride that includes a few males, up to a dozen females, and the young that the lions have produced. These pride can be as small as three individuals or include as many as thirty lions. The territory claimed by these pride tends to increase as the size of the pride increases.
Lion pride will kick out the young males at a relatively young age of two or three years. That prevents the young lions from supplanting the pride leader. These young lions are incredibly vulnerable since they lose the protection of their group.
Young males will then move on and find another pride, fighting a member to take its place within the group. Over time, the young male lions can build a pride of their own.
Sometimes the ejected young lions won’t try to take over another pride at all. Instead, they’ll form a coalition of male lions that are related to one another. These coalitions will take territory from other prides as their own. The Mapogo coalition in Kruger National Park was such a group, but their story is even more unique.
The Ominous Beginnings of the World’s Deadliest Lions
The Mapogo lion coalition consisted of six powerful adult males. Five of these males were related and similar in age, and one was a bit older than the others and tangentially related. The five related lions were the offspring of another mega pride that was called the Eyrefield Pride, also called the Sparta Pride.
The sons would imitate the fathers as adults, but they would have even greater success. In 2006, these six male lions were kicked out of the pride like most young males. Rather than joining a new pride, the lions stayed together for safety and access to food.
The lions spent the next few years surviving as a coalition. They would enter other lions’ territory, scare off the females after a hunt, and eat before running away from the male lions that owned the territory. They also spent time honing their hunting skills and teamwork. The Mapogo lions started making headlines in 2006 as they had grown into large, capable adult males.
The Mapogo Lions: Meet the Members of the Coalition
This coalition of lions was unusual in that they formed a band of six males and even more unusual in that they were so large and successful. Let’s take a moment to meet all six of these incredible mammals.
|Makhulu||Named for his large size compared to the others. Possessed a large black mane.|
|Pretty Boy||Named for being a picturesque lion.|
|Mr.T or Satan||Named for the shape of his mane and nicknamed Satan for his brutality.|
|Scar or Skew Spine||Named for the large scar on his left side.|
|Rasta||Named for having the appearance of a dreadlock in his mane after an object was caught in it.|
|Kinky Tail||Named for the unique kink in his tail.|
Makhulu was the oldest member of the lions and also the outsider to the original pride. He was a very large lion and one of the last surviving members. Most of the conflict within the group came from Mr. T, a brutal lion that was known for his unique mane. These lions represented the two dominant forces within the coalition.
The Reign of the Mapogo Coalition
In 2006, the Mapogo lions started making moves. They took over a section of territory in the Sabi Sand Reserve that was ruled over by the Ottawa pride. The Ottawa pride included four males, several lionesses, and many cubs.
They challenged and killed one of the experienced male lions, scattering the pride. Next, they killed all the cubs in the area, and Mr. T may have actually eaten a few of them. By killing all the Ottawa pride’s cubs, the Mapogos could ensure that their offspring would be the only lions born in the area.
This was the beginning of the lions’ reign in the area. Over the next several years, the lions would take over an area of 170,000 acres (265 square miles) within the park. They conquered areas that were previously ruled by eight other prides, and they didn’t ask those other lions to leave nicely.
What Made the Mapogo Coalition the World’s Deadliest Lions?
Aside from garnering a massive area, the Mapogo lions were known for their incredible feats of battle. These lions could take down powerful creatures that other lions struggled to kill, including giraffes, hippos, and cape buffalo.
Throughout their conquest of the western Sabi Sand Reserve, the lions completely upended the balance of life in the area. The Mapogo coalition successfully attacked five different lion prides, sometimes eliminating the entire group. The coalition killed somewhere between 40 and 100 lions during their reign, easily removing challengers from their territory and threats to their lineage.
The Mapogo lions killed, dominated new land, and bred. They created such havoc over their four-year reign that wildlife officials wondered if stepping in and breaking up the coalition was the right thing to do.
Are the Mapogo Lions Still Around?
Like many other empires, the Mapogo lions were brought low by infighting. Mr. T’s frequent fights with Makhulu fractured the group, with the former and Kinky Tail moving into another section of their territory.
Kinky Tail was the first lion of the bunch killed after a new coalition encroached on the territory. Mr. T was forced to retreat, injured, and reunited with his brothers. During that time, he started to kill the other lions’ cubs, attempting to become the sole breeding lion in parts of the territory.
Mr. T was killed in 2012 by another pride, having greatly surpassed the life expectancy of wild lions. Scar and Rasta disappeared during this time, possibly taken by poachers. The last two surviving Mapogo lions were Makhulu and Pretty Boy.
Makhulu appeared one last time in 2013 after he had reached the age of 16, and it’s unknown how he met his end. All the Mapogo lions have now perished, if not at the teeth of other lions, then by old age.
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