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Reign of the Mapogos

Updated: Dec 12, 2023

A lion is not called the King of the Jungle for nothing. These large animals belonging to the cat family are not just exotic, magnificent beasts but also one of the most formidable hunters in the wild and the largest of the big cats in Africa. Living in groups called prides, there was once a legendary union of six male lions that invoked terror in the land during their prime. The Mapogo Lions of Sabi Sands Reserve in South Africa were a terrorizing group that kept other lions in the region away from their territory. And to keep competition at bay, these animals killed as many as 100 lions to stay on top.

The Mapogo Lions of Sabi Sand Reserve
Photo by Africa Geographic

Ruling with an iron paw, this extremely rare coalition of six cannibalistic lions reigned terror and wiped out prides that posed a threat to them. Despite the area being ruled by eight other prides during their time, none stood a chance at dominance, for they were dealing with an aggressive and brutal lot of lions that had never been seen before in the wild, killing and eating their own kith and kin. This band of five brothers and one half-brother has an entire documentary filmed on them titled ‘Brothers in Blood: The Lions of Sabi Sand Mapogo’, which proves how these legendary majestic beasts once ruled the wild.

Introducing the brothers:

Born over a period of time in the Sparta Pride, in Sabi Sand Reserve, adjacent to the Kruger National Park, five young lions had a playful youth like their other counterparts. As per written records, these lions came into their own in March of 2006, when their reign of terror had just begun. Animal observers named these Mapogo lions after their distinct characteristics. Kinky Tail was named so because he had a tightly curled tail. Satan, or Mr. T, the most violent of the lot, had a mane groomed in a natural Mohawk style. Pretty Boy was named so because he was obviously more pretty looking than his brothers. Rasta and Dreadlocks were named after their specifically styled, abundant manes. After the pride lost a young male cub, Makulu (meaning big in Zulu), a four-year-old, joined in without resistance from the others. It is said that this band of six brothers stayed close to their pride as cubs, but when they reached their youth, they were abolished so that they could begin a life of their own. But the fact that surprised many biologists was that these young lions did not leave each other’s company at all; rather, they hunted together, lived together, and reigned terror during their prime.

Lions of Sabi Sands
Photo by Discovery UK

A Reign of Terror

No other pride of lions was allowed to enter their territory during their rule, and any animal that did so was instantly killed. These six lions, who have earned the reputations of being cruel and sadistic, were a formidable force that decimated entire prides in order to establish their dominance in the area. When field guides and rangers observed that these lions killed their own cubs to get rid of potential competition, it struck them as being out of the ordinary behaviour. But their violent behaviour did not stop there. These lions also consumed the dead flesh of their cubs! And those were just the first of their vicious deeds.

Once a young male lion from Manjigilane pride tried to show his dominance, but Mr. T and Kinky Tail, in an act of defiance, tore apart the young lion, shattering his pelvic bones and then ate away the soft flesh of its underbelly. Wounded and tired the two dreadful brothers continued their cannibalistic behaviour and same was the case with the other four lions that guarded the southern territory. In just a year, these six brutal brothers took down a hundred others of their own kin, including females and young ones to prove their power in the land.

Gone but Not Forgotten

Despite their intimidating reputation, these brothers should be viewed as the models of what a successful coalition should be in the lion's world. Their exploits have ensured stable breeding grounds and safety in a region of unusually high competition, despite the adjectives they have been given, such as sadistic and remorseless. Their success has permanently altered the dynamics of the lion population in this region, so I am not surprised that litters are increasingly favouring male offspring. This is the inevitable result of nature's efforts to level the playing field and restore balance.

In recent years, new and equally formidable coalitions have been responsible for whittling down the Mapogo’s numbers as territorial lines were drawn in the sand and crossed, and repeated battles were waged. The Majingilanes in the north and the Southern Pride males in the south have both had their say in the shaping of the new regime, and now all that remains of the mighty Mapogo are two ageing specimens known as Makhulu and Pretty Boy.

Brothers in Blood
Photo By IMDb

Since being overthrown by the Southern Pride males, the last of these legends have been sighted regularly on Sabi Sabi as they search for new territory or maybe just sanctuary as they live out the remainder of their days. At 14 and 11 years of age, they have surpassed the life expectancy of most male lions and carry the scars of years of conflict on the front line.

Due to the wrath they have inflicted on the region, it is difficult to avoid depicting the Mapogos as terrifying, evil beasts, but I hope that history will remember them as great rulers and protectors. They have increased the bar for what is expected of male coalitions in terms of securing their genetic success and defending their territory. They should be viewed as role models rather than murderers.

Despite the difficulty of achieving legendary status, anyone who has worked at the Sabi Sands for the past seven years can tell you tales of the Mapogo. Brutal dictators or devoted fathers? The lion population in the Sabi Sands entered a new era with their arrival, despite the possibility that both claims are true. Whether you like them or not, their accomplishments will always be remembered. Undoubtedly embellished and exaggerated versions of these stories will exist, but this is how great icons are created. These tales will eventually turn into myths, and then myths will turn into legends—a fitting legacy for the most well-known lions of the modern era.


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