18 Feb

Thanda Impi male Lions: Unlikely warriors

All of the guides at Tintswalo Safari Lodge have become quite attached to the Thanda impi males. The truth is that we never gave them a chance! When we first noticed the 2 males together, we recognized a familiar face. The Sizanani male was back, and he had a friend. This male was well known to us, he and his brother were territorial males in our area when I first started here in May 2012. They managed to hang on to the territory with the Koppies pride, until May 2013, when 4 of the Matimba males moved into the area, disposing of the male with the bad leg. He was alone! In one night, he’d lost it all. His brother, his territory and his pride! This however is the life of a male Lion, and they very rarely get a second chance. We watched the social media networks, and watched how he moved south again, wreaking havoc in his old stomping grounds of the Sabi Sands. Already this was an incredible story to follow, we had no idea of what was to come.

The Skorro thanda impi male Lion, coalition mate to the Sizanani male Lion. ISO 2200, f4, 1/640sec


In October 2014, we noticed that he was back, but in the company of another male. Several photos, frantically posted on Facebook and we had an answer as to who this male was. The male in question was one of the males that had been ousted from the Skorro pride, to our north. Ironically, he too had lost his brother to the very same Matimba male Lions. At this point, the Matimba’s spent the majority of their time north of our boundary, and this left a massive gap in what used to be exclusively Matimba territory, giving these 2 males an opportunity. There was one major hurdle in their way though, the also recently ousted Selati male Lions, had their eye on the same real estate. A new pride of females, the Nharhu pride were establishing themselves in the area around Main Dam and this was very alluring to both coalitions of males. Over a period of several months, we noticed that the Selati males had moved south and the Thanda impi’s were spending a lot of time with the Nharhu pride. By November 2015, we started seeing the first of the Nharhu pride cubs. Against all the odds, these 2 had taken a prime territory and sired 10 cubs. This was already and huge success, rags to riches type story, but more was to come.

The 2 Thanda impi’s greet each other warmly. ISO 450, f4, 1/400sec

Sizanani takes offense to a boisterous greeting from the Nharhu pride cubs. ISO 640, f7.1, 1/1000sec


After consolidating the Nharhu pride territory, their eyes began to wonder again. In April 2016, the Mbiri pride, who are our resident pride around the lodge, started acting up. The pride was 8 strong, 2 adult females, three sub-adult females and 3 sub-adult males, but an ancient urge was over coming the Lionesses. They started roaring, calling males to them. The Thanda Impi males heard their calls, but first had to take care of the sub-adult male problem. They swiftly sent the young males north, dealing with the competition in a typically savage fashion. The last interaction was in July 2016, and the young Mbiri males haven’t been seen with the pride since. As they started properly interacting with the Mbiri’s, an unforeseen threat had emerged. 2 of the 5 strong, Avoca male Lion coalition had also made a move on the Mbiri pride. After spending several weeks on Mbiri territory, and edging on the Thanda impi territory, a massive fight must have happened. We found the Thanda Impi’s with the Mbiri pride and one of the Avoca males sporting a very swollen face and injured hind legs. The Thanda impi’s had faced their second major threat, and surprisingly to all of us, forced these huge males out of the area.  Competition eliminated, now to the business of mating. The Thanda impi’s began with the older Lionesses, before turning their attention to the younger females.

Skorro mating with one of the older Mbiri Lionesses in late July 2016. ISO 3600, f8, 1/400sec

The younger Lionesses were a bit more fiery, as Sizanani quickly noticed. ISO 4000, f5, 1/400sec


By this stage the Thanda Impi’s now control about a third of the manyeleti, with 2 prides under their protection. They now have 20 cubs, that they’ve sired, and both made their way to this point the hard way. Hard lessons learnt have made them hard warriors. When will we start underestimating them? They have proved to be a very successful coalition.

Territory controlled by the Thanda Impi male Lions.

Skorro jealously guards a Buffalo kill from his own cubs. ISO 3200, f7.1, 1/200sec

Skorro consolidating the Mbiri pride territory, after their pride take over in July 2016. ISO 320, f8, 1/500sec

Skorro in golden afternoon light. ISO 1600, f7.1, 1/800sec

Both Thanda Impi males following up on a Mbiri Lioness that was vocalizing. Iso 800, f4, 1/60sec

Sizanani with a Buffalo kill at Ingwe manzi. ISO 1000, f7.1, 1/640sec

Sizanani moving his Buffalo kill away from Vultures. ISO 3200, f7.1, 1/320sec


Text and Photography by Darren Donovan.