The End of an Era and a Sad State of Affairs

Posted on January 31, 2009

It is with a very heavy heart that I report to you the demise of the Sand River Pride.

Towards the end of last week we were notified that the Sand River Pride had broken out of the Reserve and were out in the Community Area adjacent to the Reserve. The information we were given was they had crossed out at a section of fence that had been washed away by the recent heavy rains. Immediately we had a sense of déjà vu, and remember clearly the shooting of seven member of the Sand River Pride three years ago having also broken out of the Reserve under very similar circumstances.

The law states quite clearly that if animals leave the protection of the Sabi Sand Private Game Reserve, they then become the responsibility and jurisdiction of the Mpumalanga Park Board, who are the local Provincial Authority for the adjacent areas of the Reserve.

We fully understand that the protection of the Local Community is our utmost priority and ensuring their safety has to and will always come first, however I do not believe that these Lions were posing a direct threat, a broken fence and the smell of domestic live stock was just too much for them. In the past we have always been given a chance to intervene and utilize all resources available to us, to get the Pride back into the Reserve, and in the rare occasions that the Pride has broken out, there has never been a threat to human beings, albeit the occasional livestock has been taken, for which we have always paid substantial compensation. I am saddened to report to you that no such chance was given on this occasion, and in the same communication we received that the Lions had broken out of the Reserve, we were also informed that the entire Pride, the two adult females and their 5 sub adult offspring had been shot.

The news of this tragic event not only infuriated us beyond belief, it has left us saddened to the point of despair, as I for one, have had the privilege and joy, as have so many of you, to witness this beautiful Pride for so many years.

There is not too much more I can write, for once words have escaped me, and I have been left with a hollow feeling, as we all have, as I am sure we could have intervened and brought them home, at least we should have been given the chance to try.

We are conducting a full investigation at present, we need to ensure that something like this never happens again, but for the Sand River Pride it has become a situation of “closing the stable door after the horse has bolted”. In a heart beat we have lost an entire gene pool of a Pride that should right now, be roaming the bush along the banks of the Sand River.

Yes we have other Prides of Lions that frequent our Traversing area, but that is not the point, it is a case of not who’s right, but what’s right.

I leave you with some memories of the good times we have spent out in the bush with the “Late” Sand River Females and their offspring.

Thank you Marius for the use of your pictures in this article.

Regards from a very sad Leopard Hills Team


We need to move forward now in a positive way. Things are happening as we speak and we have hopefully achieved a result that will rectify lessons learnt from the past. To read more, please follow the link below:

The Way Forward

42 thoughts on “The End of an Era and a Sad State of Affairs

  1. Hi Phil, there are a number of factors that culminated in the Sand River Pride being pushed to the the Western Boundary of the Reserve, primarily the coalition of the Mapogo Males. Although they sired the youngsters, the fact that they are all males has caused a certain amount of aggression from the Big Males towards them.Although they were too young yet to pose a threat to the Mapogo’s, it was eventually going to end in conflict. However, having said this, it does not take away the fact that they did break out of the Reserve and met an untimely demise. We are conducting a full investigation as to the standard and state of the fence, it looks like the area they broke out had been washed away by a flash flood in the area where the Sand River enters the Reserve. We will keep everyone posted on developments, but needless to say we are all devastated by these events.

  2. What dreadful news. I hope that the brave individual that perpetrated this mass execution will also leave the gene pool, and soon. Perhaps the lesson we still have to accept has not been learned, by as many as we thought, is the one about the Wildlife in the area being a major attraction for Tourists, who’s custom / visits translate into RAND into the local economy in the shape of cash, jobs, schools, wells, medical facilities etc. The Question therefore for us all is – Have we done enough and are we doing enough in this regard for our neighbours to understand, AND to feel that link themselves. This tragic news suggests – not even close !

  3. Nick you raise a good point and it is something we take very seriously, our commitment to the local community along the fringes of the Reserve. I do not for one minute blame them for this incident, as I mentioned in the article, their welfare and safety must always come first. I am venting my frustration towards the authorities that sanctioned this action without consulting with us before action was taken, and the possible lapse in the standard of the boundary fence, this is being investigated and addressed as we speak. I reiterate our commitment to the local community and we will continue our efforts to make the standard of living in these areas better in every way.

  4. Another point I would like to add here. We deliberated long and hard as to whether we should post this article, as it is a very sensitive topic, one for which I am sure we are going to get some criticism for. However I feel that this is the reality of the real world we live in and the pressures that we deal with everyday in the Conservation Sector. I made the decision to write the article, as this is the purpose of the weblog, to communicate the reality of the day to day life of a Game Lodge, and the mainly good and occasionally bad issues we have to deal with.

  5. Wow, speechless is not the word to use -angry and disgusted as the senseless killing of this magnificent pride. I had the privilege of viewing them a year ago and shall hold the memories dear in my heart. I know the team at Leopard Hills will do all in their power to prevent this senseless murder from occuring again. Good luck in your endeavours with ‘that lot’.

  6. Oh my God!!!! This is the worst news I could expect. I thought Makwela story was a tragedy, but this is heart breaking!!!! Do the local People understand the situation??? Africa means wild life to me. Some of us will never come back if they will kill all of this beautiful creatures! So sad! :-(((

  7. Samanta Hi. You too raise a relevant and pertinent point, and that is why we will never stop our effort to ensure areas like this remain a sanctuary where wildlife can, and will roam free, in their natural environment. We have been entrusted with an extremely challenging task and we will never give up, this is not our our inheritance, but that of our children’s children, we must protect it carefully and be proud of what we pass on to future generations.

  8. Dunx, thanks for sharing this story, as hard as I know it was for you to write this and as sad as it is, I believe everyone should know the real story. We work in this environment to help conserve the wildlife and conservation of these areas, and when "outsiders" who unfortunatly "think" they are also working for the same cause destroy and wipe out a whole pride of Africa’s best without even asking for our help, which we would all have given with pleasure I will only fight harder for the animals of Africa. Animals make Africa what it is, not the people!!

  9. Duncan – I certainly believe you were totally right to bring this incident to light. It may be something or a reality check and for us animal-loving tourists demonstrates the real issues you guys have to contend with. The very best of luck to you all.

  10. I am so sad to hear this. Why must we always relegate the rights of the animal to the very bottom. In America people are starting to recognize and understand animal rights. However, in Africa, it seems there is not much respect for life, whether animal or human.

    Duncan, why not start a fund in the pride’s name and let all of us who have been your guests contribute so we can become a part of the good Leopard Hills is doing for the continuation of such incredibly beautiful animal life, sustained in a natural habitat. Maybe it will help to ease the pain. If there is someway we can help in addition to monetary assitance, then let all of us know.

  11. Duncan – what terrible news! I am just a tourist who was lucky enough to stay with you in 2003 and had the absolute pleasure of witnessing what us here in the Uk only see on tv. The pride will always be a fantastic memory but how tragic a statemnet is that! This is not natire it is spite and murder – I do hope that you do bring tragedies to the log and our comments someway help your cause. how sad it is that my yound daughters now will never be able to visit and see direct descendants of the sand river pride that Mom & Dad saw!!! Terrible!

  12. Duncan- I just read about this and I am so upset to hear this devastating news. I have never been to Leopard Hills yet but I can imagine how everyone feels right now. They may be wild animals but to you all they are a part of your"family" at the reserve. I cannot fathom why you were not given the chance to try to bring them back into the reserve. We are coming to stay at Leopard Hills in April and we are counting the days already. We know this is a very sad time for everyone and hope that this will never happen again. I cannot believe a whole pride of these beautiful animals have been wiped out. It is so very sad.

  13. The joy we have witnessed and felt is shown in the photos on our wall. The Pride remains in our hearts and memories. It has been less than a year since the Makwela incident. Is this a trend? Put me on the list for the Pride fund. Good idea, Judith.

  14. Duncan: That is very sad and as you stated, it could have been prevented. I don’t think I’ll ever understand the African mind, when they know where there revenue comes from, the tourist dollar. When the animals are gone so are the tourists. Thank goodness there are other prides in the area. Not only for the tourist benefit, but for nature in general. Jaon and I are looking at the pictures we’ve taken over the years. If I’m not mistaken, this is the pride at was chased by the Cape Buffalo’s last September. Thank Marius for the pictures. Joan and Arnold

  15. Duncan,
    I have delayed responding to your WebLog while I tried to balance our feelings of profound sadness and deepest outrage. The great sadness is obvious, many of us have watched this pride play as cubs, and develop into adulthood, and always looked forward to renewing our acquaintance with them every time we return, the needless loss of any creature that might have been saved is an abomination against Nature.

    Initially I perceived the outrage to stem from our sense of impotence at our remote locations and our inability to do anything about the situation, but reading through the other blogs, – is that really true ?
    somewhere within the Established Authorities there must be someone who, even if they are not passionate about the animals, does at least comprehend the eventual domino effect of the lodges not receiving the constant stream of visitors, – the knock on effect would be felt all the way from major airlines who transport us to Johannesburg, right down to the very communities that live beside your reserves, and reap the spin off effects of our pilgramages. We Love you and the team dearly, but no animals, = no visits, no dollars, and therin is the solution to our perceive impotence.
    To all you guests, we lost Makwela’s cub and nearly Makwela herself to this mindset recently, now this.
    What say that we start a petition of condemnation that whilst fully recognising the ultimate priority and sanctity of human life, calls for the exploration of all other avenues before the almost automatic extermination of any stray animal, including possible consultation with the Lodges, after all, who knows those animals better than the Rangers who spend almost every day observing them. Nobody is seeking to dilute or undermine their authority, merely trying to ensure that killing is not the automatic first line response, and is carried out only as a very last resort and with extreme reluctance, ask yourselves. what can a young cub do – lick you to death ?

    if any other contributors agree with me, just send me a one word email, "YES" ……….and I will start the ball rolling.
    IF we say we support Leopard Hills, and all the other lodges that do so much to help both the wild life and the Local polpulation, isn’t it time we showed it ?

  16. What devastating news! Education and restraint is much needed. This week, I’m going to a Cheetah Conservation Fund meeting…. for Namibia next week and hope to gain some insite as to how to protect the predator species when nature hands out a "bad hand". What do your trackers think about this situration? They are so close to the land and its inhabitants – maybe they have some valuable insights to offer. Besides a seemingly thoughtless loss of life, there must be a better solution to this very, very sad scenario.

    To the Leopard Hills Team, words cannot express my sadness and sympathy.

    And, Tim.. you have a big YES from me!
    Joy K. Camarillo CA

  17. Ditto to that. Count me in as well, Tim. This is just shocking and heartbreaking news. When something of this magnitude happens, there are a variety pool of feelings. Rage, disgust, hurt, heartbreak, to name afew. And I don’t understand the cubs being shot as well. There should have, there COULD have been another way around this. In my eyes, this is cold blooded murder and yes, someone should pay. Truly a tremendous loss! R.I.P. Sand River Pride

  18. when marius asked me to look at the blog i expected something bad, but not this bad…really heartbreaking for all of you i am sure, and as with makwela’a cubs, it makes it so much harder that their demise was brought about by unnatural circumstances…i sincerely hope that you guys can all work together to come up with a possible solution that will help prevent something like this happening again – good luck…


    chad cocking
    motswari game lodge

  19. I appreciate all the comments that have been posted on this article, just to update everyone that this incident has been taken to the highest level, and action will be taken up with the "powers that be".

    We are united in our stand point and uncaring of the fallout and repercussions this may cause as a result of toes that are being trodden on. It is so rewarding to see such passion evoked by so many people, we all share your sentiment and will not for one minute relinquish our responsibilities.

    Thanks again to you all for the support.

    The Leopard Hills Team.

  20. Just a quick update for everyone. We have been following up on reports from the Mpumalanga Parks Board, and according to them 6 out of the 7 Lions were shot, it appears that one of the young males got away, and there is a distinct possibility that he headed straight back into the Reserve. We are following up on this lead and will see if we can pick up any facts to back this up. So far nothing, no tracks have been located, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t out there somewhere.

  21. This is such heartbreaking news that I can hardly write about it. We remember these beautiful cats well from our last visit to Leopard Hills in September – how much we enjoyed watching them, especially the four young guys who decided to chase a hippo! We have wonderful pictures and feel so sad that they were not darted and returned. We understand that lions are not as abundant has they have been and this type of incident is frightening.

  22. Duncan – many thanks for updating us! In these horrible circumstances I feel we are all united, no matter what part of the world we come!

  23. just came back from an extended trip to bali and Thailand, and this was the first e-mail I opened. my heart is sad and I am wordles.
    Both Paul (Distenfeld) and myself, enjoyed watching and following the Sand River pride and their antics (as well as a hunt by the 4 unusual Mapocho’s "coalition" taking down a baby rhino from his mom-together with Gary) during our too short stay at Leopard Hills. I am so sorry to read that still not everyone appreciates the wealth these beautiful wild creatures represent.
    Our sympathy to the whole Leopard Hills team.

  24. Very sad indeed and very bad management. Very sad to think that those people are appointed to protect wildlife and they do this. 🙁

  25. Hey Dunx

    I can’t believe it, what a horrendous debarcle! You guys are doing such a great job with the blog and by keeping everyone up to date. Hopefully with that and the humbling respect for the bush you have always show will help avert something like this happening again.

    Charles Darwin wrote…"The love for all living creatures is the most noble attribute of man"

    Sympathy to your team and all nature lovers.

  26. The Leopard Hills team has my deepest sympathy.

    It must be heart breakening for you all when you became aware what has happened.

    I fully agree on you bringing this matter up to be investigated by the highest autorities.

    A big virtual hug from The Netherlands.

  27. I am absolutely devastated to hear about this sad news.
    Having been a guide at Leopard Hills for 7 years and having watched this magnificent pride through trial and tribulation, then from strength to strength.
    They provided both myself and the guests that I guided with hours and hours of phenominal viewing and some unforgettable memories.
    My deepest wishes to all at Leopard Hills. Just too tragic, tragic.

  28. It just feels so vain that we here at our computers around the world mourn for helpless this unforgiving shooting. I so deeply hope that all you, who have even smallest power to influence on those people who are responsible for this case, do your best. I promise that I?ll do my best for wild animals here in north!

  29. Duncan,
    While our hearts are broken and our minds are searching for answers, we must too consider what can be done to prevent this from happening again…not just the killing of the beautiful lions, but the escape that caused their deaths. Yes, the heavy rains washed the fence away, so perhaps that is what we need to concentrate on improving. I too believe the lions could have been saved, but that comes from a heart that loved them, not from the men that shot them who may have had no more knowledge of lions than most casual animal watchers. A single lion being killed would be more understandable then seven. The first shot would have seen them all scatter,begin to panic and run..telling me there had to be several guns and many bullets before they all went down. The more I ponder, the more my heart sinks. Whatever needs to be done to prevent this from happening again must be done, whether it is building sturdier fences, dams to keep the washouts at bay, or any number of things that I’m sure will include a thorough investigation of the actual incident. A tragedy like this only proves to us once again that animal preservation and appreciation is still felt by a very small group. We can hope that the deaths were quick and painless, releasing their souls from the fear they must have felt during their last moments.

  30. I would just like to say that even though ive never had the privilage of viewing this pride of Lions when they roamed as they should of been allowed to do I have read the article with tears in my eyes every animal should have the right to live if only the authorities had notified the reserve as soon as they new the Pride was out then this would never have happened it is criminal for this to have happened and im hoping the authorities concerned who did this have not gained financially by what they have done as that would the grossed thing towards the memory of those beautiful animals I hope and Pray this never happens again but Man being Man im sure it wont be the last

  31. I would just like to say that even though ive never had the privilage of viewing this pride of Lions when they roamed as they should of been allowed to do I have read the article with tears in my eyes every animal should have the right to live if only the authorities had notified the reserve as soon as they new the Pride was out then this would never have happened it is criminal for this to have happened and im hoping the authorities concerned who did this have not gained financially by what they have done as that would the grossed thing towards the memory of those beautiful animals I hope and Pray this never happens again but Man being Man im sure it wont be the last

  32. Duncan, our hearts are aching over this tragic news… takes our breath away.. As a member of Ngaire & Ken’s ROAR group, we thank you and your dedicated team for all the effort you are putting into making a difference for these precious animals. May you continue your fine work & know that we whole-heartedly support these delicate treasures of our world. Roar on, sweet Pride.

  33. Hi Duncan, by chance has there been any sighting or news on the one young male that escaped the shooting?

    Thanks for all you do!

  34. I can’t believe this tragic news, team. What short-sightedness!?! Who in their right minds would not at least attempt a rescue?? I know Duncan and the LH team will do all they can to ensure this never happens again. It’s just unbelievable. I’m lost for words. The Sand River Pride was YOUR pride… part of the Western Sector Sabie Sands family in a way. Surely the Parks Board are supposed to act on behalf of the animals they protect and conserve?? I am very very sad to hear about this.

  35. Have just been told of this terribly sad news. Had the privilege of seeing this pride in August 08. Everyone has already expressed my feelings, but I sincerely hope that your investigations will highlight where improvements can be (and will be) made not only to safeguard the animals behind the fence at Sabi Sands and in the communication between the reserve and the community and relevant authorities. Its a fine balance and its only when these tragedies occur that we are forced to examine and improve. Am terribly saddened for this loss. I suspect this pride may have ended up being in conflict with the Mapogos ultimately. Good luck with your task

  36. What an utterly sad and disgusting disgrace. The entire Mpumalanga Park Board, who are the local Provincial Authority for the adjacent areas of the Reserve, should be removed and replaced with board members who can reason and act with strategic intelligence. Perhaps someone should inform them that tourism is governed through the preservation of wildlife, and not their poor judgment and inability to see the larger picture here. With so many other options offered them, what would motivate any half intelligent and responsible authority to allow such a tragedy?

  37. This incident is really a tragedy and I hope that somehow some positive changes will come from this. At least their loss will not be in vain…perhaps their legacy. That way others won’t face the same fate.

  38. Hi Duncan:

    My wife Dorothy and I were at Leopard’s Hill in August 2008 along with a group out of California, thanks top Horst Engel. I was shocked to read about the loss of the pride of lions. Even more shocked by the behavior of the officials in the area who ordered the pride killed. I know that your staff would happily have worked with other game drives to find a way to herd the animals back. What an injustice!

    Regards to Marius, our super guide.


    Allen Webb

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