what it takes to be a lion

Over all the time I have been involved in guiding and more especially since Sabi Sabi started with Social Media, I have noticed a trend where people pass judgment on the lions. There is an opinion, even amongst the rangers that certain lions are better than others. I think it is amazing to have such passionate commentary and views on these subjects but I would like to put forward my own thoughts on this.

Sanriver Male Lions at Sabi Sabi

The Sand River males have sparked up as much controversy as what the Kruger male did when they first came in to take over the Southern Pride. The way they go about their business and the manner in which they took over all have been put forward and now currently we all look at the condition of the Sand River males. These boys are by no means pretty lions, on the contrary their battle scars and skinny appearance may lead us to believe that they are inferior lions but a lion is a lion, no matter what they look like.

Lions while on safari at Sabi Sabi Private Game Reserve

Nature has a plan that is far greater than our ability to understand and when it comes to survival, the fittest will always prevail. These three boys have been through so much and at every turn they seem to be creating more and more of an impact on the dynamics of the Southern Pride. Let’s consider the fact that they were a coalition of three fighting and asserting dominance over an area that had 13 other male lions competing for position. We had The Kruger male, who after the loss of his brother, seemed to retreat into the Southern Pride hoping that the females would offer him the protection he needed to stay as the pride male. In his retreat he opened the doors to a variety of males to come in and challenge.

lion while on safari at Sabi Sabi Luxury safari lodges

lions while on safari at Sabi Sabi

First on the scene were Solo and the Eyrefield male. These two came in almost uncertain of whether they should make the challenge or not and the Eyrefield male even started to show a little more dominance over Solo. Soon after these two arrived we had the three Sand River males, the four Majingilanes and the four Skukuza males moving on and off of the reserve. A surprise visit from two unknown males from the Kruger National Park also popped onto the reserve for a few days as they chased the Southern Pride and the Kruger male out of the Kruger National Park. That tips the scales at 16 males all vying for the same territory.

safari at Sabi Sabi

However it seems that the three Sand River males managed to win out despite all the pressure on the area and in the process injured Solo and sent the Kruger male packing. Now it still remains to be seen if the Kruger male will make a dramatic reappearance to try and take back his throne or if he will move on and look for another pride.

male lion at Sabi Sabi

lion while on safari at Sabi Sabi Luxury safari lodges


The Sand River males are mating as often as they can with the Southern Pride lionesses and they seem to be quite receptive to the advances of the new males. The pride is still split in two but this wouldn’t be the first time I have seen this either. The lioness with the scar on her nose seems to be leading the bigger split around and I assume that one of the younger females is her cub. She will not bring her youngster close to the males until such time as she feels that it is safe and the youngster can’t be too far off of that point. We will have to see how this all plays out but for the moment the Sand River males seem confident and content in their new role as the pride leaders. Their looks have played no part in their success and if anything their success has led to their looks. The battle scars, both offensive and defensive, have shown these boys have character, they have strength and they have resolve. In the last couple of months these boys have dispatched approximately 15 cubs, some of which could have been their own as the lionesses were mating with all the different males that were coming into the area. Now we will have to wait and see how this all pans out from here.



  1. annemarie calkins says

    Thanks Richard for your breakdown of the lions! I can hear your voice reading it! They are majestic animals, scars and all! We will never forget our lion encounter with you a month ago. Wishing we were back in SA!
    Anne and Bob

  2. shirley says

    Good Blog. And this clearly says that KNP’s daughter is still alive. She is over two years old now. They have done this many times before. The larger group stays away with the younger group and any of the Sub adult males, while a smaller group remains with the males. I believe the SRM’s will be the new pride leaders, however it is still questionable if there will be a split in the pride that will form a break away group. I also believe that though he may not become dominant over this pride again, that KNP will reappear, and pay a visit at least to the larger group of the pride, not the females with the SRM’s. For an update, KNP was seen mating with another female lioness for at least a week in another area far away from the SP.

  3. mj says

    Thank you for this update.. I think we humans like to create personas for our wild critters, which makes them more human to us.. When in fact they are what they are.
    I admire any lion or coalition/pride who can hold their own in such a harsh unforgiving environment.. We all have our day in the sun, so to speak, only if we are fortunate enough to keep those who also want the sun, at bay..

  4. carsten says

    I love the Sand River Males… They resemble the truth of how tough it can be to survive, in an ecosystem that almost seems to be made for their destruction… I think they are beautiful lions… It sucks that cubs have to die, but, that is the lions way, and we all need to accept the inevitable… The lionesses that held them in their womb’s, plopped them out, nursed, protected, cuddled, and played with the late mothers’ cubs, as well as the aunt’s, sister’s, brother’s, and cousins accept it and move onto continuing their path for survival (for the most part), therefore so can the humans who love them… And once accepted–people will observe a whole new family sired by the new kings…

    Great Post!

    Thank you for sharing Rich.

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