It was the year 2,000. Kapama Private Game Reserve had only been established a few years earlier in 1987. One of the rangers had discovered that a very old female lion had given birth to a litter of 2 cubs, one male, and one female. All those years ago, no one at Kapama could have imagined just how significant this addition to our animal family would be.
After 8 very short months of trying to keep up with her young cubs and their uncontrollable energy levels and growing needs, the elderly mom abandoned her darling duo. She left them to fend for themselves in the wide-open wilderness of the South African bushveld.
The days turned into weeks, and weeks turned into months. You could see brother and sister moving together, supporting each other, as they grew older. Against all odds, these two abandoned cubs faced the perils of the wild head-on.
With terrain of over 14 000 hectares as his playground, the young male lion was free to grow, mature and establish himself on the Reserve. By the time he reached his prime, he was capable enough to take over from another dominant male, who had sadly passed away. At this stage, there were three prides of females on Kapama and during his reign, the now fully grown male had fathered a fair amount of cubs. In 2009, the birth of a little male cub would slightly change his territory size. After about 4 years, his young son, who was now rather quite a fierce contender, stepped into a fight with Kapama’s big male. Even though the younger lion lost, the intensity of the fight split the big male’s territory in two. For years after that, he ruled the northern parts of Kapama while his son ruled the south.
2012 brought a few more additions to Kapama’s biggest pride. One male cub was born early in the January of 2012 and two more male cubs born around about May 2012. These additions pushed the pride number up to 12 by the end of August 2012. After another three years and constant new additions, the pride number was raised to 22 in September of 2015. Shortly after this, the pride started to split up into smaller groups.
Some of the pride moved towards the south while the three new males moved north with a group of females. For a limited time, there was peace amongst the lions of Kapama, but it was short-lived. The current ruler was not happy with the northern arrangement and chased the three brothers away from the females. With this separation and living nomadic lives, the three single males formed a coalition. June of 2016, brought the first uprising of this coalition. They fought their old leader, wanting dominance in the north. His age, fierceness, and experience seemed too much for the 3 younger lions and they were unable to defeat him.
For a time again, things settled down in the north. A few months later the coalition decided to give the master of Kapama another run for his territory. Time after time, the coalition continuously came back for more. Eventually, it seemed too much for him and he retreated into a small part of the north-west of the Reserve.
One evening in late August, the coalition decided they wanted to take everything from King Kapama and add his smaller terrain to their newly acquired territory. However, there was no way he was going to go silently into the night. With the last of his energy and power , the ruler of Kapama put up the fight of his life. With all the strength, might and intensity that one would expect from the King of the Jungle, he went into a final battle to stand his ground.
The next morning, my tracker Mateo and I left a bit earlier from Kapama River Lodge on a drive with guests. It was not long before we all heard a loud, intense roar. Over the years myself and all the other rangers and trackers had come to identify this majestic king by his sound alone, and it was no doubt that this was him once again.
Little did I know that it would be the last time I would hear his gallant cry. It appeared that the fight the night before had been too much for him. With seventeen years of dominant reign over the Reserve behind him, Kapama’s oldest male lion released his last breath of air during the midday hours of that fateful day.
Over the years this iconic lion had become the epitome of what Kapama Game Reserve represents. If you ask anyone from Kapama, without hesitation they will tell you when they see our logo or speak the name Kapama, the first thing that comes to mind is the grandiose image of Kapama’s oldest male lion.
It was a sad day for all our staff, especially our rangers who had all developed an indescribable respect for him. He never seemed to disappoint. Whenever spotted on a game drive with guests, he would flaunt his power and dominance, as only he knew how. Always giving our guests exactly what they expected from a lion sighting.
He will always be remembered, wearing his mane neatly, combing it as he walked through the bush before leaving an area, slowly and proudly walking down one of the Reserve roads, making sure everyone knew that Kapama was his domain.
Although now a fallen king, he will always remain a Legend of Kapama.