i am legend

“Legend” – A person whose fame or notoriety makes him a source of exaggerated or romanticized tales or exploits.

mapogo lion brothers

‘Legend’ is a word that is thrown around all too often in this day and age but the term surmises the reign of the Mapogo lions in the Sabi Sands to perfection. For the last 6 years or so, this notorious band of brothers has ruled the area with an iron paw. They are true warriors and have proved themselves time after time on the field of battle. During their prime, 6 of these magnificent specimens patrolled their territory, dispatching all competitors and striking fear into the hearts of all that found themselves in their way. Legend has it that the Mapogo have been responsible for killing in excess of 40 males, females and cubs as they stamped their authority on their domain. Whole prides have been wiped out in their relentless march for dominance and challengers have been eaten in an act of defiance: a fate almost unheard of in the species of Panthera leo. The former warden of the Sabi Sands has been cited saying that he believes them accountable for over 100 lion fatalities although the true number will probably never be known. Never before has the lion population known such a force and it is stories like this that have elevated their exploits to legendary status.

mapogo brothers

Mapogo brothers


These brothers may have a fearsome reputation but in the world of the lion, they should be seen as the epitomes of what a successful coalition should be. They have been labeled as sadistic and remorseless to mention only a few adjectives assigned to them, but their exploits have ensured safe breeding grounds and stability in an area of unusually high competition. Their success has changed the dynamic of the lion population in this area forever and it is no surprise to me that litters are becoming more and more skewed in favour of male offspring. This is an inevitable outcome as nature attempts to balance the scales and provide a more level playing field.

mapogo male lion


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 aging specimens known as Makhulu and Pretty Boy. 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 12 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.

mapogo male

During my 6 years of working in the bush, I have been privileged to view and come into close contact with many different lions from different areas of South Africa and Tanzania but I can honestly say that I have never witnessed such magnificent specimens as these two remaining legends. Perhaps it is the stigma attached to them that accentuates their aura, but they are the most intimidating lions that I have laid eyes upon. It is not merely their freakish size and musculature that raises the adrenaline levels and starts the heart pounding, but the look contained deep within their eyes.

makhulu yawning

Peering into those yellow abysses one can truly feel the history and experience of many a hard fought battle in which the deciding factor was not just power, but a will to survive. Their eyes bore through you like no other lions I have even seen and I refuse to believe anyone who claims to not feel a slight pang of uncertainty when they stare back at you. The uneasiness of their presence is something that I have never felt before when watching the Kruger males. For fear of downplaying the current kings of Sabi Sabi, the last of the Mapogo make them look like kittens.


It is hard not to paint the Mapogos as terrifying, evil beasts due to the wrath they have rained down on the area but I hope that they are remembered as great rulers and protectors. They have raised the bar as to the expectations of male coalitions in so far as protecting a territory and ensuring their genetic success. They should be seen as role models, not killers.

pretty boy mapogo lion

In conclusion then, legendary status is hard to achieve but ask anyone who has worked in the Sabi Sands for the last 7 years and they will tell you tales of the Mapogo. Sadistic tyrants or protective fathers? Both could be claimed true but the fact is that their arrival heralded a new age of the lion population in the Sabi Sands. Love them or hate them, their exploits will never be forgotten. These tales will no doubt be embellished and exaggerated but this is how great icons are born. Over time, these stories will become myths and myths will become legends: a fitting legacy for the most famous lions of the modern era.

Mapogo brothers

by: Ben Coley (Bush Lodge Ranger)
Images by: Ben Coley and Richard de Gouveia


  1. brett says

    Hi Ben,

    Great article! I was wondering, are there any stats on what the lion pride population/s were pre the Mapogo coalition and then what the various prides and pride numbers are now at?

    I have heard stories (from other rangers) that because of their dominance (dictatorship?!) that they actually negatively affected the lion population in the Sabi Sand for a while?

    Make no mistake, like all of us, I am fascinated with them and revere them just as much!


  2. wolfe says

    Certainly, some of the best writing ever. The shots are what we can now describe as the last of ‘Africa’s Most Notorious Band of Brothers’, and while the battles are far from over, it has been a good run, following the legends for these few years of their tenure.

    Many thanks and tons of appreciation to all the rangers, wardens and many guest and tourists have have dedicated their time, resources and energy into bringing home the life and times of the Mapogo.


    Saul Wolfe

  3. lamp says

    Outstanding!! Thanks for providing an insight that I would not have if not for your blog!!! “ask anyone who has worked in the Sabi Sands for the last 7 years and they will tell you tales of the Mapogo.” I can’t wait to get there in September so I can hear these stories in person……..thanks again!

  4. kim says

    read this when you can. I have met these bad boys and fallen under their spell. You won’t see these guys when you go to Africa but you will see others like them (sort of).


  5. mj says

    Thank you for your blog on the Mapogos. They were indeed mighty warriors, and to call them sadistic and cruel is to give them human qualities.. they were the mighty lions..They raised the bar, and showed just how it should be done! They will be sorely missed.. But what a privilage to have witnessed even part of their reign… Long live their memories. and may the Pretty Boy and Makhulu find a peaceful end to their long and glorious reign..

  6. juno says

    Thanks for this wonderful blog! I know the inevitable ending is about to happen, but I’ll be there until they completely vanish from the Sabi Sabi. Long live Mapogos! You’ll forever be the most formidable male lion coalition all Africa has ever seen. My boy Mr. T, Kinky Tail, Rasta and Dreadlocks are all waiting for you on the bridge, Mak and PB! Roarrrrrrrr!!!

  7. mark gerling says

    This is simply awesome and how I wish I had been able to see the famous band of brothers. Most of my time is spent in East Africa and the pride lions mainly the males is different than what you describe in this part of the Continent. I have been keeping tabs on the Mapago Lions for a while and was saddened to see Mr. T be torn apart by the Selati males of the south. I will view them as heroes in my book and life as a coalition male lion is the toughest job on earth.

  8. the carbonells says

    Love the article. We are home (NY-LA tomorrow) but are still dreaming of Africa and our amazing time with you and Rika as our fearless leaders. What an adventure we have had and to have had our eyes opened to this incredible new world has been a gift. I think the bush may have gotten into the blood of some of us and we’ll be back! We’ll check into the blog and please know you have friends on both coasts!
    Shannon and familyxxx

  9. rosie says

    I love these two old boys, especially Makulu, I always feel that, for all that he was the dominant male of the coalition, that he would have been even happier just to have been left alone with his ladies and his babies. I think Pretty Boy was of the same mind too, probably why they have outlived the others. Have they been in a fight recently ? Makulu’s eyes look in a bit of a state, or is that just old age ? His mane is starting to disappear too which I know comes with old age.

  10. ben coley says

    Thanks for all the comments everyone. I hope it was a fitting article for such an influential coalition! News from the fight yesterday morning is that one was seen briefly with quite bad injuries to his testicles amongst other areas…but we don’t know the extent of the injuries just yet. We did find tracks for one deep in south of the reserve this morning but couldn’t locate him. It seems I underestimated the Kruger males. Although the remaining Mapogo are larger, I can only posit that their desire has left them and they merely seek to live out the rest of their days in relative peace.

    They have graced the Sabi Sands with great memories and we are honoured to share what seems to be the end of their days here at Sabi Sabi. We will keep you posted on events as they happen.

  11. sheila says

    What a fantastic blog, and a fitting tribute to the Mapogo boys. It scares me a bit to hear that there was a fight and at least one of the brothers is injured. I really hope that they weren’t injured to the point of bringing one of them down. I didn’t know much about Rasta and Dreadlocks, as I started following the Mapogos only after they were gone but the other four Mapogos, especially Mr. T, have a piece of my heart. Thank you, Richard and Ben for so many photos of these last two remaining legends….and of course, for the amazing write-up.

    • ranger rich says

      Goerge, we found PB but no sign of Mak…PB was looking skinny and in my opinion didn’t seem very happy! We will keep u as informed as we can!

  12. jason says

    Rich you mentioned about 1 week ago that you had big news that you needed confirmation on before releasing the info, can you tell us what the info is because i’ve hadnt heard anymore on what the news is and i know alot of us are anxious to hear. thanks

  13. nature lover says

    Nice article. In their prime these lions were scary specimens. When it came to freakish size big mak aka makhulu, rasta, and dreadlocks seemed unnaturally large. This coalition was so impressive it took two coalitions to end their reign. The now ruling Majingilane were once five until the came across mr t and kinky tail. It took all four of the majingilane males to kill kinky tail. The story of the Mapogos is like no other.

  14. MR T my pain says

    i think Makulu and Dreadlocks made big mistake that they left brother in determined fight with Selati Male’s …. and result was dead MR T. it was big mistacke..
    it was END OF MAPOGOS. yes i know they were older, about 12 and 14 year’s, and cause made that move out from area.. but it’s not Royal choice… Royal choice made MR T whene he Stayed and Fought for his territory

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