First published in June 2019, updated in February 2021.
Immortalized by the famous wildlife documentary, Brothers in Blood: The Lions of the Sabi Sand, the Mapogo lion coalition is a notorious band of brothers that went on a vicious quest to dominate and rule the Sabi Sands region in South Africa’s Kruger National Park. The coalition became infamous for its sheer power and strength in taking over and controlling an area of approximately 70,000 hectares.
Read on and learn about the fascinating lion coalition, so infamous they’d go down in history!
The History of the Mapogo Lions
The coalition of six male lions first appeared in March 2006, when they claimed territory of their own by force. Usually, lions are quiet when entering a new area, but the Mapogo clan moved in with great dominance and power, roaring loudly and killing the males from the area with ease.
For rangers and trackers, the idea of a six member coalition was extremely rare, and in the years to come, they witnessed the most relentless reign for power and dominance known to the lion population.
The lion coalition was allegedly named after a South African security company, Mapogo A Mathamaga Security. No longer in operation, the Mapogo A Mathamaga was known for its intense and often brutal forms of dealing with criminals.
Mapogo Lions Names
The six lions of the Mapogo lion coalition are named:
- Makulu (the leader),
- Kinky Tail, and,
- Mr. T, who was notorious for his extreme brutality, got his name from his classic Mohawk hairstyle resembling that of the Mr. T character from The A-Team.
These six male lions originated from the Spartan / Eyrefield Field Pride, sired by the West street males. Makulu, the oldest member, is the only lion who came from a different pride, while the rest were brothers.
During their rule, the Mapogo coalition wiped out countless prides. Together, they killed over 100 lions that posed a threat to them, including females and cubs.
Brutalists, they took over whole territories with unprecedented aggression, and challengers were often eaten during acts of defiance.
The coalition of six shifted the entire ecosystem in the Sabi Sands area, dominating and controlling an area that was once ruled by eight other prides.
How are lion prides formed?
Lions are the only cats that live in groups, called prides. Prides usually comprise of anything from two to 40 lions, usually including around three or four males, around a dozen females, and their young.
The pride’s lionesses will all be related, and the female cubs will usually stay with the group as they grow older. The males, on the other hand, will eventually leave the pride at age two or three and build their own prides by taking over another pride, which is how new lion prides are formed.
Males will generally take on the role of defending the pride’s territory. While the female lions are the pride’s primary hunters and leaders. The lionesses work together to both catch their prey and to raise their cubs communally.
This is how a usual lion pride is formed, however, every now and then a pride of only male lions forms, called a coalition.
What is a lion coalition?
A lion coalition is when a group of two or more male lions (sometimes up to seven lions) join together. These male lions are usually made up of brothers, half-brothers, or cousins and would have grown up in the same pride. Though, it’s not uncommon for non-related males to form or join a coalition.
The main reason for lions to form a coalition is for protection. When they are first kicked out of their natal pride, everyday is a struggle to survive. While they are still young, they have a hard time both trying to hunt and to defend themselves against other, stronger male lions.
This is why male lions who are kicked out of their pride at the same time will generally form strong bonds that are reinforced with their shared struggle. By bonding together, they have a better chance of survival.
As they become stronger, however, their focus shifts from survival to gaining territory. More members in their coalition will give them better chances of winning fights with other males.
Benefits of a large male lion coalition include:
- They have the ability to drive off single male lions, or even smaller coalitions, and take over territory at a much younger age than if they were alone.
- The lions become more successful at hunting, an important aspect of survival after leaving their natal pride.
- A larger coalition will eventually rule over a larger territory and more prides, giving them access to more lionesses to mate with. The Mapogo lions ruled over eight prides in the Sabi Sands region.
- Larger coalitions will generally hold territory and mating rights for much longer as they are more challenging to topple. This also leads to a longer life for males in a large coalition.
However, while there are many benefits, there are some challenges that come along with this arrangement. Among the Mapogos, this included internal rivalry. Fights often broke out between leader Makulu and Mr. T. This eventually even led to both Mr. T and Kinky Tail breaking away from the coalition after a big clash between Makulu and Mr. T.
Mr. T later joined the Mapogo coalition again after Kinky Tail was killed in a clash with the Majingilane coalition.
Why was the Mapogo Lion Coalition so unique?
The Mapogo lions are probably the most well-known lion coalitions in recent history. They became famous for their brutal and ruthless tactics, and how quickly they took over their new territory. They were different to normal coalitions in that they killed just about every lion that they came across.
While not unheard of, it’s less common for lions to form such big coalitions. With six members, the Mapogo lions had a massive advantage. So, instead of many smaller coalitions fighting for dominance, the Mapogos were able to rule over eight prides. Completely changing the entire Sabi Sands ecosystem.
The Mapogo lions were also reported to have taken down buffalo, adult giraffes, and even young rhinos and hippos. Not only were they killing every lion that crossed their path, but also eating them.
The Mapogo lion coalition’s ability to control and protect such an expansive area of land was unprecedented in the lion population. They will forever be remembered for the legendary force.
How did the Mapogo Lion Coalition break?
Mr. T, the most brutal of them all, was outnumbered and killed by a rival coalition, the Selatis, in 2012. The Selatis, also referred to as the Southern Pride males, was made up of four males.
After that, the others mysteriously disappeared and the legendary Mapogo lion coalition was broken.
Makulu and Pretty Boy, the last remaining Mapogos, fought a coalition of two Kruger males and were driven off their territory. They were sighted together later in 2012. Makulu, despite being the oldest, was the last to be spotted alone in 2013 in Mala Mala. He was almost 15 years at this point, well exceeding the average male lion life expectancy (which is eight to 10 years).
Should the wildlife officials have intervened with the Mapogo lions?
With the sheer brutality of what the Mapogo lions got up to, and the high numbers of lions that they killed during their reign, many have said that the wildlife officials should have intervened.
However, even though this was an extreme case, lion coalitions are part of nature. Only the strongest and most ruthless lions will become resident males, ruling over prides. Male lions will always do what they can to survive and pass on their genes, which forming coalitions allows them to do.
The Mapogo coalition was not the first, nor will it be the last large coalition. While it seems hard to comprehend how the lion population will survive these killings, they will. The survivors of each onslaught will become the next generation, just as the survivors of the past large coalitions. While it certainly is harsh, it’s just the nature of lions fending for themselves in the wild.
The Mapogo Lions documentary
Learn the full story of the infamous Mapogo coalition by watching the documentary, Brothers in Blood: The Lions of Sabi Sand, available to purchase on Amazon or to watch on Amazon Prime Video.
Brothers in Blood: The Lions of Sabi Sabi, a documentary directed by Daniel Huertas, was released in 2015. The documentary aired as an eight-episode series in the United States on Animal Planet. It was filmed over a 16 year span, by both amateurs and professionals who witnessed these six lions in their prime.
The documentary series tells the full story of the rise of the Mapogo Lions and the takeover of the largest territory by a pride, told by the eye-witnesses themselves.
If you’d like to explore the old stomping grounds of the infamous Mapogo lions, learn about current lion coalitions and prides, and view these incredible animals up close and personal, get in touch with us and we’ll plan a dream safari in Africa for you!
Looking for more interesting reads on Lions:
- Read our post on the Greater Kruger National Park, which explains the geographical breakdown of the Kruger National Park and the various private concessions in the region, including the Sabi Sands region – the old stomping ground of the Mighty Mapogos.
- Love lions? Read our post to learn interesting facts about lions, including their pride structure, behaviours and more!
- If you loved watching Brothers in Blood: The Lions of the Sabi Sand, we recommend checking out our top list of the best nature and wildlife documentaries from Africa. Let us know which is your fave!
We hope you enjoyed reading this post and learning about the Mighty Mapogo Lions. When you’re next on safari in Africa, mention Kinky Tail, Mr T and the boys to your ranger and they’ll tell you even more interesting facts about these infamous lion brothers!
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Love this write up, the Mapogo Lions history is like no other in the lions world. The photos are awesome very beautiful. Well done a beautiful article about these famous 6 lions.
Thank you for the feedback Susan!
It’s a too sad history. We know animal’s life is like this but it hurts our sensibility
The Mapogos should have 6 statues charging the Sabi sands. It’s the least they can do
Not only should have a statue but they should be trying to save the last remaining. sublioness who is from the sparta pride. Her & her mother have been alone. Mom recently passed & krueger has outdated rule where they wont interfer w/animals. This a lone 18 mth lioness who will die w/o help. But krueger has always hated mapagos so they wont help. They allowed the killing of 6 magogo sub lions killing part of an era
I think the Wildlife officials should have intervened by taking three of them to other parks.The killing of over a hundred lions by these six guys,to me,was a great loss to conservation.
I agree completely. I am shocked that wildlife officials failed to take action. I think relocation of several of these lions would have been a good solution.
I totally think so too and maybe one wouldn’t agree but to sit a watch the savage attack of an already half dead lion- with the big hole in his spine, that was just perverse. They could have shot him before he had to endure total torture
Dude it natural, Let lions be lions. Jesus
I know right!!
It happens in nature only the strong survive. That would mess things up. Because at that time it was meant to be. Thats our problem. We like to control everything. Why we stick our noses in everything we have hunted some of the greatest animals in history to extinction. And I’m sure that there will be a time very soon that we will ot be able to see these beautiful animals in the wild. They will be nothing but something to gawk at. Its very sad that in a world were the lions only have a tiny bit of habitat. So while they still can be let then be lions.
I agree let lions be lions nature is God given and as with humans, nature will prevail and the Mapogos like many before them will always be remembered as we talk about them today they will be spoken of for many years to come The lion will be a lion and they will kill many other lions it’s called nature where only the strong survive they have been through much worse let them be lions hopefully to be seen for many more generations. Now if they could stop being hunted ….
Exactly you are point on and while as devastating as The Mapogo Coalition was it’s nature nature was and should be the only regulator of nature the real problem is the poaching of these magnificent creatures
Where can I get a copy of this clip. I just love the documentay
You can purchase the documentary via Amazon.
The infamous Harry Kirkman became warden of the Sabi Sand Game Reserve in 1958 and frequently visited the farm. After having captivated friends with his incredible wildlife stories around the campfire, he would always sleep on the porch of Room 2, despite a ready-made bed indoors.
Great stuff! I really enjoyed reading the documentary of these facinating lions, rutheless as they were, but no less regal and captivating.
Is prettyboy mapogo still alive
He went missing in the later years, believed to have been killed by another pride.
Conspiracy; Killed by trophy hunters !
Killed by trophy hunters !
No he had TB and died naturally I believe
Brilliant write that showed The Mapogos for what the was a brotherhood of warriors
Awesome but not from the viewpoint of enjoying their actions. Legends they were. Thanks for this write up
The mighty Mapogo shall always reign superior for their blood mixed with the Earth and grows still to this day as tall as the trees.
Apakah masih ada keturunan dari mapogo, saya ingin tau
Never again in history another Mapogo the greatest brotherhood
I would like to introduce a view that often neglects attention. This coalition of 6 males succeeded in dominating Saba Sands for many years. Yet, in their wake they failed to carry their male gene-line onto the next generation. Supposedly this is what drives the infanticide unique to male-line domination:By killing the cubs of the previous rulers, they bring the females into estrus which ensures that the next generation of males will exclusively carry their male-genes. One explanation only partially explains this, but says a lot. When a coalition of three of the Mapogos broke off from Mr. T and Kinky-Tail, and Kinky-Tail was subsequently killed by an invading coalition of 5 younger males, Mr T remained without a territory of his own. The break-away coalition of Mopogos reluctantly took him in. Had they not, his fate would have been sealed. Meanwhile, this less-violent Mapogo coalition had settled down and each fathered a family of their-own – a next generation of Mapogos. Rather than realizing that he was at the end of his dominion (having seen Kinky-Tail killed by a coalition of 4 younger lions), he reasserted his Alpha-0ne dominance and killed all of his hosts`s cubs. So one can say that his infanticide went so beyond the innate template of self-preservation (through reproduction) that he leaves a legend of genocide.
I love this pride so much
I miss the mapogo coalition but kings also die so the mapogo lions the only blood line of mapogos was there daughters i never seen any sons of the mapogos i did see therr grand sons
Live by Sword,Die by the Sword as the saying goes,what an Epic….
CommentWhat does it mean (MAPOGO)
I absolutely hate canned lion hunting , surely hope people will voice their displeasure and disgust to the various people in the government(s) of South Africa . Mak(h)ulu is my favourite Mapogo ,compassionate , wise , caring , I love the fact that he looked after the older males as well as the original pride he was accepted into , allowing the old kings to die of natural causes. Mr T and Kinky tail were the phyco`s . Second favourite was Dreadlocks , he mainly hung out with Makulu , but talk about a tough animal . How many lions could kill a bull water buffalo by themselves and having his right front paw broken in the process , yet he still stood off 20 plus hyenas until he had a good feed and left it for them . Check out the video , the matriarch of the hyenas had such fear and respect for Dreadlocks , that they never attacked him outright , even though they were in very close proximity to him ,(inches)from behind his back. They just hung around lightly harassing him until Dreadlocks limped away with his broken paw . Perhaps ,the hyenas were wary because Makulu and Dreadlocks were always together , maybe they thought Makulu might show up ? Dreadlocks did heal up and resume his duties as a lion king . Makulu made sure he had food when he was healing . Love these two lions so much .
Thank you for the above article about Mapogo Coalition!
I would like to pen an observation about this very special coalition. First though, I must mention that all animals are special among them every lion.
My points Regarding The Mapogos, 1) Physical, 2) Behavioural, and 3) The connection b/w 1 & 2.
1)Physical: Mapogo coalition can be divided in to two subgroups based on their facial features and shape of their skulls.
Subgroups A consisted of : Makhulu, Leonid-Red or Rasta, and Mohawk also known as Mr T.
These lions had a triangular face due to their prominently long, narrow jaw line which anatomically made their skulls resembled that of an African leopard. The narrow long jaw line gave the above three lions a triangular face shape with a trapezoid forehead. Additionally, subgroup A seems to have a lengthened fore head and frontal-temporal bone structures.
Makhulu, Leonid-Red, and Mohawk had slender bodies. Regarding their manes, Makhulu in his later years was the only of the Mapogos with darkest mane though in his early adulthood his mane was flame-blond like Leonid-Red’s mane. Mohawk had less mane with a distinctive pattern due to a recessive gene that he carried. His mane was as dark as Makhulu’s but because he carried the recessive gene his mane and its dark colour was not as notable as Makhulu’s.
Noteworthy mentioning that Makhulu was the tallest and longest (#5-10 cm) lion among The Mapogo brothers.
Subgroup B consisted of Phoenix, Scar or Tank, and Shaka famously known as The Worrier.
They did not have prominent narrow jaw line and combined with their wide rectangular foreheads, it seemed as though they had larger and wider faces compared to subgroup A. The three lion brothers in subgroup B had full, blond manes; fuller, robust front limbs and generally were more muscular compared to subgroup A.
2) Behavioural: There were two subgroups. Subgroup A: Makhulu, Leonid-Red, and Mohawk.
Subgroup B: Phoenix, Scar, and Shaka.
Subgroup A:These lions were more ”strategic” behaviourally. This might mean that they were more intelligent. Though, the three lions operated significantly different, they all applied ”strategy” to their actions. Among them (including all The Mapogos), Makhulu was the prominent strategist and the wisest. Hence, he out-lived all his younger brothers. Though he could attack ferociously, he preferred to save his efforts only to apply where it was necessary. Thus, Makhulu was ”knowingly selective” with regards to his aggression and that was his strategy that helped him to live longer than all of his brothers and many lions in the wilderness.
Leonid-Red was known to be mysterious that was due to his subtle yet swift actions. He was the ”invisible” Mapogo. Data collected about Leonid-Red was the least compared to the rest of The Mapogos. Leonid-Red’s discretion was his strategy and was his wisdom as a top predator.
Mohawk has been portraited as the most aggressive Mapogo. Yet, Mohawk was the most supportive of all his six brothers when it came to share his catch with his pride. Based on the videos available on the utube, Mohawk was the most generous lion, among his brothers, towards his prides. He not only allowed his pride to have a full access to his catch but also he supervised the feed among them, occasionally as showed in the videos. In one occasion during the feed and after watching his pride feasting on his catch, Mohawk blocked one of his lionesses ”gently” by placing himself between the lioness and his offspring allowing his offspring to have a full access to his catch. A behaviour that was not recorded about any of other Mapogos.
Mohawk’s supportive role was also prominent from very early age, as cubs. He was extremely protective of Shaka. In fact, I doubt that Shaka would have been as aggressive as he was without Mohawk’s full backups. Shaka was a worrier or general because he knew Mohawk was always behind him.
Even the attack on Makhulu’s offsprings was a strategy that required intelligence though it was ruthless and cruel.
Mohawk had two behavioural facets: supportive and ruthless. Both of these behaviours require intelligence and strength. To combine these two opposite poles, Mohawk had to be intelligent. In fact based on his behavioural patterns, Mohawk was the brightest second to Makhulu and among The Mapogos.
Subgroup B: They were less strategic more active. Among this subgroup, and the whole coalition, Shaka was the most aggressive. He attacked for the sake of attack with the unconditional support of his twin, Mohawk.
Scar was as aggressive as Shaka but his aggression was mostly directed towards protecting his brothers and his pride. Due to his extremely robust physique (number # 1 among the six Mapogos; his physique even resembled the extinct Atlas lions or Panthera Leo Leo), Scar was able to take down a buffalo, even a giraffe without no support from his brothers, as recorded.
Though physically very strong, Phoenix applied his aggression towards catching his preys. He was the least aggressive among this subgroup.
3) Physical vs Behavioural correlation: I have no data to support the link. However, subgroup A with a distinct narrow jaw line, trapezoid forehead, and lean body frames seems to have a superior strategy to survive wild life compared to their fair-mane, muscular, highly aggressive brothers in subgroup B.
Whether there is a correlation between facial features ( that means a minimally difference in skull anatomy) and muscularity versus behavioural traits such as strategy or aggression is yet to be investigated, hopefully in future panthera leo coalitions.
Hi Petra, thank you so much for sharing these insights!
I loved watching the episodes of mapogos who were soo beautiful lions in the world i love lions a lot they have a special place in my heart but the mapagos lions story was a heart touching❤ I love there attitude, there brutality they were soo beautiful lions
Me encantan los leones, su fortaleza, su gran corazón! 🔥🔥
rasta or dreadlocks because of his mane the other brother was scar