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.
Interested in seeing these majestic creatures with your own two eyes? Take a Kruger National Park tour on an open-topped vehicle or a Full-Day Big Five tour at Addo Elephant Park.
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
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!