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The Lions of Camp Hwange.


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The pride of lions that call the Masuma area of Hwange home now have been a part of my life since I came to the Sinamatella area of the park. This pride is known and the “Shumba” pride to us and the Lion research team because the Shumba area of the park is where there core territory was at the time. Camp Hwange is in the Shumba area, ironically Shumba means Lion. This pride used to call the Camp Hwange concession home when we first arrived here to build the camp. Back then we had the three beautiful males named (by the lion research team) Daniel, Day and Lewis. The Mohicans as we knew them! As I have often said I am not a fan of naming wild animals as they do not belong to you and never will. However for the ease of the story and talking about the cats we use the names. I have recounted many stories about these cats and this pride over the years we have been here. In March 2013 Daniel was shot by a Ranger in self-defence (another story I told at the time) , a very sad day in our memories, as this was the beginning of the slow decline of this coalition of males.


Daniel was always the enforcer; this could be simply seen by the number of scars on his face compared to that of Day and Lewis. Though they were all the same age and blood brothers, Daniel looked much older due to the scarring. This showed that he was always the first one in to a fight and was the most dominant of the three. I often get asked by guests how does it work when there is more than one male in a coalition, who does the mating? Who is dominant? There is always an idea between them of who is who and dominance is shown. This doesn’t mean they wont still have little tiffs here and there. They are lions after all! In the case of these three males it was definitely Daniel in charge as over the years we saw mating happen many times in this pride and it was just about always Daniel we saw doing the mating.


On one occasion I saw Lewis mating with one of the pride females. During the time we sat with them watching, Lewis would keep looking in one direction. When the female got up and walked off with Lewis following , who appeared from out the bush in the direction Lewis had been looking…Daniel. He walked off after them at a slow pace. The next day when we found them Daniel was with the female and Lewis nowhere to be seen. In all the time we observed this pride I never saw Day mating. So it is pretty safe to say that majority of the cubs that were produced from this pride at this time were Daniels.


After Daniels death we quickly started to notice that the other two boys seemed to consolidate their territory and spend more time in the Masuma area and not come into our area so much. As soon as they started to do this we began to see unknown males appear in our area. Thankfully Hwange has a fantastic lion population, so when territory becomes available male lions both young and old with no territory and those looking to expand the empire quickly start to take advantage and move in. This is what we saw happen in our area at this time. For a while none of the males stayed long as Day and Lewis were doing just enough I believe to hold on.


Then in August 2013 the game changed, two new unknown males arrived on the concession, one obviously older than the other. One of these cats had a collar so we immediately contacted Lion research to find out about these boys. The reply came that this was Naxha and Vusi. These two were an interesting pair , Naxha was older than Vusi by about three years and they were completely unrelated. So had met as adult mature lions and formed a coalition, something you will hear people say doesn’t happen. An old way of thinking before the research Is that once a pride male has lost his territory and his pride he is finished and will slowly fade away. This is not the case as in some cases Males will form new coalitions and retake territories and prides.


To digress slightly and give you a complete picture, during all of this time there was another dominant male lion to our East. A magnificent cat known as Goose! Named Goose because he was first collared by the lion research at a seasonal pan called Dwarf Goose that is on the eastern side of our concession when he was a young cat. The way this all ties together is that Goose is the father of Daniel, Day and Lewis and is also the father of Vusi. Goose during all this period called the Nehimba area home and was dominant here for a longer than average amount of time. A great feat considering he was a lone male. During his time a king of this area he sired many cubs of which the above-mentioned boys are some.


So after Daniel was shot we now we had a situation whereby we had Day and Lewis in the west in the Masuma area, Naxha and Vusi in our area and Goose in the East. Quite quickly Naxha and Vusi moved east and took over Goose’s territory. Not without a fight from Goose! I believe Naxha and Vusi sized up the options. In the West were Day and Lewis, two males still in their prime. In the East was Goose, a lone male getting on in years. So east they went and conquered. Goose then soon appeared in our area, when he first arrived he looked terrible. He was thin and had still had some wounds from his fight with Naxha and Vusi (who remember is one of his sons) He has also killed a porcupine somewhere along the way as he has quills still stuck in his chest and face. He was a sad sight and to be honest we though his days were numbered. However lions are not the kings of the jungle for nothing. As the dry season was just beginning goose managed to find a couple of elephants that had died of natural causes and sat on them and regained strength and put on weight again. The porcupine quills gradually worked there way out and in a couple of months Goose was back to his former glory.


So now we had Naxha and Vusi in the East, with Gooses old pride, Goose in the middle being our area and Day and Lewis in the west with the Shumba pride. It was at this time that we started to see two lioness’s in our area more and more regularly. It turns out these two were from the Nehimba area. This made sense as they had basically left with goose and they wanted to no part of Naxha and Vusi who had taken over this area. It is not always the case that conquering male lions get all the girls from the previous King. Sometimes females who have dependent cubs will leave the area rather than have their cubs killed by the in coming boys. Sometime even if they do not have dependent cubs they decide they don’t like the regime change and will leave. This is what seemed to happen with these two lionesses, they had followed Goose.


These two girls very quickly settled into our area and we would see them very often. Now I may be biased as we saw them so often but they soon became my favorite cats. They were and still are two of the best looking lionesses I know. Large bodied cats, muscly, and always looking fit with beautiful shiny coats. I have never seen these two not looking great. Breaking my own rules I started to call these two….the supermodels! The name has stuck to this day and they are known by this to the Lion research now.


So to get back on track, we have Naxha and Vusi in the east with the remnants of Goose’s pride. Goose in the middle with the supermodels and Day and Lewis in the east with the Shumba pride. It stayed like this for a while; Goose now back in shape and having two of his girls with him was doing well. He would walk all over our concession roaring for all he was worth, telling everyone that would listen that this was now his area. Unfortunately for him it attracted the attention of his previous enemies Naxha and Vusi who returned and beat him up quite badly again. This was the beginning of the end for Goose who was now an old lion at around 14years of age as after this he moved gradually all the way east to the Main camp area. Until finally in a thin a weakened state he left the park boundary and ended up very sadly killing a child in the communal area next to the park (The story of goose is another story that I have written in the past). National parks immediately destroyed goose.


After this Naxha and Vusi began to move between the Nehimba area and our concession. Naxha definitely spending more time at Nehimba and Vusi more time in our area. The supermodels soon calmed down to this would be seen together these boys when they were in our area. Day and Lewis up till now had still been making the odd foray into our area. There was a bit of a back and forth going on between them and Naxha and Vusi as they were deciding where the boundary was.


We were not seeing him and Lewis very often though as Naxha and Vusi definitely seemed to be winning the Camp Hwange concession and Shumba area. Then one afternoon when on drive on the concession I came round a corner to see a very thin and old looking lion in the road. I stopped and had a look at him through the binos. He looked terrible. I was wondering who this cat could be so took photos of the whisker spots to try and clarify. We sat with him for a while until he got up and walked into some tall grass and we never saw him again. It was Jane from the Lion research who said to me I should check its not either Day or Lewis. I think I my mind I had just written that idea off, it could be one of our boys surely! After checking the whisker spots it was confirmed it was Day. We never did see Day again, I don’t think he lasted much longer after we saw him and I still wonder if one day I will find his bones on a walk! This was the beginning of 2014.


Now Lewis was on his own with the Shumba girls, this pride was still big as it had grown over the years under the rule of the three boys. In its heyday this pride was over thirty cats. In the time since many of the young males of this pride had left as they had come of age and gone nomadic. Lewis just stayed put in the Masuma area. I believe for sure the Shumba lioness’s were helping him to protect this area from other males as he held on here till the end of the year on his own. Holding a prime area with lots of females, a very attractive prospect to any up and coming males.


Naxha and Vusi were now moving between our area and Nehimba. At this time Vusi began mating with the supermodels and they both had cubs. One of the sets of cubs died/were killed quickly as we never even saw them but just saw the mother stop lactating. The other lioness proved to be a better mother and has two male cubs. I always remember there ages as they were born the same month as my Daughter. December 2014. Things stayed stable like this for most of 2014.


By the end of 2014 in the dry season we started to see young unknown male lions start to appear in the area. As I said before Hwange has a very good lion population. Always in the dry season we see new cats that are following game and the water. Of these unknown cats four stood out in particular as they hung around more, and were very relaxed around cars. A sure sign they have seen cars before. Often we see young males that are very nervous of cars and they have come from areas of the park where there are no vehicles moving. In this nomadic stage of life these young males can cover huge distances. The youngsters moved in definitive pairs but clearly knew each other as we had seen them together. These young males were just coming into their prime. They began terrorizing Naxha and Vusi.


When I say terrorizing, they would wait till Naxha and Vusi had gone back to Nehimba then start calling from our area. This would get an immediate response and Naxha and Vusi would come back within hours and the young boys would disappear again. Naxha and Vusi would walk all over scent marking and roaring for a day then leave again. And then the youngsters would appear and roar and scent mark on top of Naxha and Vusi’s scent. A clear middle finger in the lion world! The youngsters were not quite up for a scrap yet though it seemed. It was very entertaining for us though. We had lions everywhere! The supermodels all the while staying close to Vusi in particular who was there defender as far as the now year old cubs were concerned.


The type of war tactics the younger cats were using, one afternoon after a long day on safari I was parked with my guests at a waterhole on the edge of our concession. We had just poured G&T’s when we heard a lion roar behind us. We jumped in the vehicle and found Vusi about a hundred meters away. Vusi has always been a very relaxed cat around vehicles, probably the most relaxed cat I have ever known to be honest. So we sat with him meters away, drinking G&T’s listening to him roar. A very special moment! We could hear the faint replies of Naxha in the distance. Naxha was obviously walking back to Nehimba and Vusi decided to stay this side as he often did. When we could barely hear Naxha anymore suddenly we hear two lions roar from close behind us. In a flash Vusi is up and thundering into the bush behind us roaring. Two of the youngsters had sat quietly waiting for Naxha to walk away so as to catch Vusi on his own. We only got glimpses of them and hear the noise of them fighting but Vusi it seemed managed see them off. These were the guerilla tactics of the young boys!


It was at this time at the end of 2014 that the final member of the Mohicans left us. One of our guides radioed me to say he could see Lewis under the bridge at Masuma and he was breathing very heavily and didn’t look right. Later that day when we checked Lewis was dead. His head was swollen massively. I assisted Jane Hunt from lion research and Jess Parry from Wild Horizons Wildlife trust to do an autopsy on him later the next day. There was massive swelling and hemorrhaging round his head and shoulders. We took numerous blood and tissue samples that came back inconclusive. We think he had been hunting giraffe and had been kicked in the head. It was a very sad day, the end of an era for the Shumba pride and us.


As I have said, when territory and females become available male lions very quickly clock onto that as they will not be hearing roaring or smelling male scent in the area. It did not take long for two of the young males that were terrorizing Naxha and Vusi to move into the Masuma area and begin taking over. This pride still had lionesses with dependent cubs in it from Lewis at this time. Quickly the pride split and the lionesses with the dependent cubs left the area. It is not uncommon for this to happen, they don’t always have there cubs killed by the incoming males and this is how new splinter prides form. The females that did not have dependent cubs kept the new boys occupied. These two boys after some squabbling have now taken over this pride and are still in charge of that area now. The other two disappeared not long after this and we have not seen them again. Because we had been seeing these boys so often we had lot of photos of them and had made sure to get good whisker spot pictures for ID purposes.


Finally we sat down with Jane from lion research to go through her massive database of whisker cards to try and ID these boys. Jane decided the first cards we should check are those of the young males that had gone nomadic roughly two years before from the Shumba pride. Her experience showed, as sure enough who were these four young boys…. Sons of Daniel, Day and Lewis, most likely Daniel! from one of their first litters back in 2010. These were some of the same lions we had seen and photographed as little cubs when we first came to the concession beginning of 2011. These young males had gone nomadic and wandered far and wide only to come back to where they were born and take over there birth pride!

Enter the era or Liam and Mandla!


Middle of 2015 Naxha disappeared and Vusi was left alone to defend the Camp Hwange area. This he did in earnest till the middle of the next year when Liam and Mandla, no longer young cats but big cats right in their prime decided they wanted our area to add there kingdom. Vusi tried to defend but two young males in their prime against one older cat is just that, Vusi left our area and we had not seen him for over six months. To be honest we though he was dead, until one of our guides was on a drive in the Robins area, close to big toms river. He saw a big male lion in the distance sleeping and slowly drove towards him. This lion did not even look up or open an eye to look at the vehicle. Only one lion we know that relaxed, it was Vusi. Alive and well and looking good, he even had a female with him. He had mover roughly fifty kilometers away and reinvented himself and taken over the pride of this area.


We have not seen Vusi since the end of last season as we do not go to the Robins area in the wet season. I do hope he is still going strong, as he is a magnificent cat as many of our guests over the last few can attest! The supermodels sadly we have seen less of since Vusi deposing as they still have the two young boys with them, Vusi’s sons. Though they are not little boys anymore but are standing taller than there mother now and have decent little manes starting. They are two years and three months old now, as is my daughter. They will soon, if not already go nomadic. I am sure when they do the supermodel will move back to our area permanently and most likely mate with Liam and Mandla.


Liam and Mandla still rule the Masuma area and have when last I saw twelve of their own cubs and are making trips into our area to try and keep a hold on it. Though as I write this there has been an unknown young male calling on our concession for the last few weeks who we have managed to get eyes on once.


What a privilege to have followed this dynasty of cats over four generations from Goose too Daniel, Day and Lewis too Liam and Mandla and now to Liam and Mandlas cubs.





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Thanks you so much for sharing this history of these lions in Hwange. It is fascinating to hear of the lion dynamics of the area and the rise of and fall of the lion 'stars'.

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@@zimproguide I just loved hearing about these lions. I'll be staying for four evening next year at Camp Hwange as well as four at Little Makalolo. I stayed before at Somalisa Camp which I loved. I'm eager to return to Hwange,especially because I'll be in different locations. I'm eager to stay in Simantella because I know that the scenery is quite different from that in the other part of Hwange.

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  • 5 months later...

@zimproguide I really enjoyed your essay on lion dynamics in Hwange. Would love to see the reigning kings myself. Hopefully not too far in future. 

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