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A Tribute To Sizanani – Kruger’s Legendary Lion King

It was a sad day last month when rangers of the Manyeleti Game Reserve, in the greater Kruger National Park, learned of the passing of one of their most magnificent male lions—Sizanani. Christof Schoeman, a guide at Tintswalo Safari Lodge described Sizanani as a ‘True Survivor’ for his amazing ability to somehow come out on...

It was a sad day last month when rangers of the Manyeleti Game Reserve, in the greater Kruger National Park, learned of the passing of one of their most magnificent male lions—Sizanani.

Christof Schoeman, a guide at Tintswalo Safari Lodge described Sizanani as a ‘True Survivor’ for his amazing ability to somehow come out on top, despite all odds. Sizanani also gained the nickname “Phantom”, because he would sometimes disappear for long periods of time—everyone would presume he was dead—and then almost miraculously appear back in the Manyeleti to stake his claim once again.

He was a tidal force in the greater Kruger National Park area, with a territory that fluctuated between the Manyeleti at Tintswalo Safari Lodge, and Sabi Sands regions, and involved various other males whom he formed tight bonds with; and numerous cubs that he sired.

It’s fair to say that his incredible survival genes have been passed on into numerous new generations of cubs as he made his way in the tough world of the African bush.

Below is his remarkable story.

Sizanani’s amazing early life

Sizanani was born in the beginning of 2007, from a pride of 20-strong lions known as the Nkuhuma Pride in the Northern Sabi Sands region. This pride was well-known in the area as the ‘buffalo hunters’ for their remarkable ability to kill buffalo, one of the largest prey species. This was a skill that would prove important for Sizanani.

Sizanani was part of a litter of 20-plus cubs. But in December of 2007, tragedy struck the pride. Blondie (father of Sizanani), was killed by the legendary Mapogo male lion coalition. Attacks on the remaining pride and cubs during the first half of 2008 devastated the pride. Many cubs fell victim to the attacks; as did some of the adult lionesses too.

The pride became fragmented, lost, and Sizanani and his brother were the only two cubs to survive the onslaught. It was up to them to carry on to adulthood.

The first time the brothers were seen together on in the Manyeleti was in the middle of 2012. At this point, they were known as the Nkahuma males. The brother of Sizanani had a very bad hip injury which he maintained for a very long time, probably with the help of Sizanani. This is where Sizanani gained his name, Sizanani, which means ‘working together’, given to him by local guides and trackers at the time.

Photo by Paul Steyn

In September 2012, Sizanani and his brother, now known as the Sizanani coalition, were mating with some of the Koppies (breakaway from the Orpen super pride) Females. During this time, the brothers had numerous fights with the Legendary Matimba males, but somehow managed to survive.

At the end of 2012, another blow struck Sizanani when his brother (one with the bad hip) was killed by the Matimba males close to Tintswalo. Sizanani then ran back towards the Sabi Sands and spent most of 2013 in the Northern sands, wandering the reserve as a lone male lion.

Although he was not seen for a while, Sizanani became legendary in the area, and there were reports of him single handedly taking down adult buffalos during this time.

In Aug 2013, he fathered his first litter of cubs with a pride known as the Styx Females in the Sabi Sands. Unfortunately, his first litter was killed by other males. At this point, Sizanani disappeared off the radar. And everyone began to presume that he had died.

Sizanani’s triumphant return

And then, just like that, he was back!

In September 2014, he appeared back in the Manyeleti by himself after months of wandering the wilderness alone. It was at this point that people on social media began to describe him as the “Phantom’—a true survivor.

Sizanani finally decided to reside in the Manyeleti, close to Tintswalo Safari Lodge, and it was here where he also made a new friend, another male lion whom he joined forces with to take back the territory. This was officially the start of the Thand Impi Males, where Sizanani and an unknown male ‘Scorro’ formed a coalition and started to dominate the central Manyeleti!

When Sizanani was a cub, he had learned the skills of hunting buffalo, and now him and his new brother began to take that reputation forward, hunting massive buffalos in the reserve and feeding on them for days.

Sizanani stakes his claim

Just as the two boys began to set up their new territory in the Manyeleti, the infamous Birmingham Lions made up of five big males arrived.

They spent some time in the Manyeleti. Despite this, the Thanda Impi males, led by Sizanani, managed to evade this monstrous coalition. The Birmingham Males moved off. Finally, the two boys had established themselves and their territory.

They were lucky enough to meet up with the 3 Birmingham lionesses that originated from the Southern Timbavati Game Reserve during the remaining months of 2015 until early november. This was the start of the Nharhu pride! Now the lion count was 2 pride males, 3 lionesses+ 10 cubs! These cubs are currently still in the area as 2 year old Sub adults.

Next in line for a takeover was the Mbiri pride. In 2016, this pride consisted of 8 lions, 5 lionesses with 3 young males—ready to be kicked out and become nomadic.

The Thanda Impis saw the opportunity and forced the females to submission during June 2016. Mating ensued for the first time in September 2016, where both males collectively started mating with the two older Mbiri Females. Ever since then, the Thanda Impi males spent less time with the Nharhu pride and more time with the Mbiris.

In February 2017, the first Mbiri cubs sired by the Thanda Impi’s were born! The total count as it stands 5 lionesses, 2 pride males and 16 cubs of different generations.

Sizanani’s last days

At some point, Sizanani’s epic tale had to begin to end.

And that day was Christmas day of 2016. Rangers found Sizanani with a bad hip injury that could’ve been caused by a buffalo hunt gone wrong. Either way; he wasn’t the same lion again. He managed to feed well by staying close to the lionesses he had come to dominate, until he finally succumbed to his injury on the 27th of October 2017.

His final resting place was a spot not too far from Tintswalo—an area that had become his final kingdom, and the place where he fathered the most number of cubs.

Sizanani provided all of the rangers and guests with hours of joy and amazement. He truly was one of the great lions of Kruger, and he will be sorely missed.

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Meet the Author

Author Photo Paul Steyn
Paul Steyn is a widely-published multi-media content producer from South Africa, and regular contributor to National Geographic News and blogs. Having guided throughout Africa for some years, he went on to edit a prominent travel and wildlife magazine, and now focuses on nature storytelling in all its forms. In 2013, he joined a team of researchers and Bayei on a 250km transect of the Okavango Delta on traditional mokoros. In 2016, he accompanied the Great Elephant Census team in Tanzania and broke the groundbreaking results on National Geographic News . Contact: Follow Paul on Twitter or Instagram