May 1

Africa’s Real Lion KINGS

By Michelle Welvering on May 1, 2023

I had my first experience of meeting Africa's lion kings at the ripe young age of seven. However, it was sadly not on safari but when my family and family friends, with their own offspring in tow, hit the drive-in to bear witness to none other than the legendary "The Lion King" animation film. And let me tell you, no other movie has etched itself into my brain like that masterpiece of classics. But in real, tangible Africa, there are some mighty lion kings worthy of their own feature films...

Very young lion cub sitting alone on a rock

Who could forget one of the most loved animated films of all time featuring Africa's lion kings

“Before Sunrise, He's Your Son.”

If you've also watched "The Lion King", we're sure you too were entranced by the epic tale of Simba's rise to kinghood under the wise tutelage of his father, Mufasa! Oh, and the coolest mandrill on the savannah, Rafiki, of course! The cultural impact of this movie spans generations. But you know what's wild? As much as we love Simba and Mufasa, the real animal kingdom is way more complex than that.

Large male lion with his cub

The unforgettable father and son bond between "The Lion King"'s Mufasa and Simba

“Well, Forgive Me for Not Leaping for Joy. Bad Back, You Know.”

Fast forward a few decades, and that movie still held pride of place in our living room cabinet, thanks to a trusty ol' VHS tape. Remember those? The black boxes housing a mystical sheeny tape coiled tightly around white spindles? Ah, the nostalgia. But I digress.

The point is, over ten years and countless rewatches later, my brain developed, and my empathy deepened. And I started feeling a bit sorry for poor Uncle Scar, despite the fact that he sent his big bro tumbling to his death in a stampede of frantic wildebeest (not exactly a cool move, Scar!). But something about this scrawny, scarred-up lion still pulled at my heartstrings…

Close up of a lion with many scars on his face

You'll be surprised how many of Africa's lion kings look "Scar-like" in the real animal kingdom

“There's More to Being a King..."

In fact, here at Rhino Africa, we know that, in real life, characters like Scar – who are seemingly cold-blooded and cunning – feature more often than one would expect. Parts of his character ring true in many lion pride dynamics. However, it's important to remember that, in the animal kingdom, it's all part of survival and, ultimately, the "circle of life".

From Mufasas to Scars, there are many lions in Africa that can be considered true "lion kings" for their strength, leadership, and, yes, even ruthlessness. That being said, let's take a look at some of Africa's most iconic lions and why they've earned the title of "The Lion King".

Male lion standing proud

Meet Africa's real lion kings on safari 

Scarface – The Adored Savannah Sovereign

When it comes to the topic of Scar, it's worth mentioning another mighty lion whose name bears a striking resemblance, namely Scarface. This male lion, known for the massive scar above his right eye, lived in Kenya's famous Maasai Mara National Reserve.

Scarface lying in the grass beneath the shade of a tree

Scarface reigned over many prides throughout his life

Scarface was the king of his domain, along with his three brothers – Morani, Sikio, and Hunter – who were lovingly dubbed the "Four Musketeers". But Scarface, in particular, captivated the world with his unique appearance and winning personality. He was a star of many wildlife documentaries, including the BBC's Big Cats Diary and National Geographic shows. Heck, he even had his own Facebook page!

Sadly, Scarface's reign came to an end on June 11, 2021, when he passed away at the ripe old age of 14. His demise was due to old age, which is just further proof of how tough this lion was – he went out on his own terms, leaving behind a legacy as one of the most beloved lions in Kenya.

Scarface in all his glory

Scarface became one of Africa's lion kings that were beloved by millions

Notch – The Fallen King Keeps Rising

The Maasai Mara is a wild wonderland where the Great Wildebeest Migration brings a stampede of hooves and horns that shake the earth. But for a decade, one mighty lion and his offspring ruled supreme over the savannah. Notch took over the Marsh Pride in 2004 in a legendary showdown that was captured on the BBC's Big Cat Diaries.

However, his rule was short-lived when he was dethroned in 2007. Many thought that the lion king's days were numbered. But Notch had other plans. He roamed far and wide, blazing a trail of courage and cunning, until he found his five sub-adult sons and rallied them to his side. 

Notch, one of Kenya's most resilient lion kings

Their ferocity and finesse were etched into the pages of history in Disney's African Cats, where Notch and his heirs clashed with the fearsome Fang, a lion of unparalleled might and menace. The film captured the spine-tingling moments when the Notch coalition, bathed in the golden glow of the sunset, marched towards Fang's domain, ready to unleash their fury. They were victorious.

Notch himself passed away at the age of 14 in 2013, but his legacy lives on. His sons, who had grown strong and skilled under his watchful eye, kept him safe and well-fed until the end. Notch may be gone, but his spirit still roams the Maasai Mara, a testament to the enduring power of courage, strength, and love.

Notch's sons, Notch II and Grimace, bonding in the beautiful Savannah light, Image Credit: Varun Aditya

Bob and Ziggy – Leaving a Lasting Legacy

Traversing over to Tanzania, two legendary lions ruled Namiri Plains in the Serengeti National Park. All rise and due reverence to King Bob and Ziggy! These two savannah kings were the rockstars of their time, with their black-maned dreadlocks giving them a look worthy of the great Bob Marley and Ziggy Marley themselves.

Bob could be recognised by his dark mane with large dreadlocks, Image Credit: Daniel Rosengren

From 2008 to 2017, they ruled over multiple prides with an iron paw, passing down their superstar genes and dashing good looks to their offspring. And boy, oh boy, did they have many...

Bob's right-hand man, the legendary lion Ziggy, Image Credit: Africa Today

Bob's cub, Bob Junior, inherited his father's impressive black mane but with a sleek and stylish twist, making him the envy of all the other lions. But don't be fooled by his boyish good looks because Bob Junior was a force to behold.

When Bob Junior lost his pride to two other male lions in 2018, he didn't waver. Instead, he teamed up with a younger and equally gorgeous male, whom the locals fondly knighted "Bob's Friend" or "The Bullet". Together, they won back their pride after two months of being missing in action, which is a lion feat that we have never heard of before.

Bob Junior and his pride mate, "The Bullet" sitting on a Kopje

Bob Jr. and Bob's Friend "The Bullet", Image Credit: Chris Fallows Photography

Cecil the Lion – The King of Conservation

Cecil the Lion was a majestic creature that roamed the plains of Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe. He was a symbol of strength and beauty, a leader among his pride, and a favourite of tourists and researchers alike. His life story, though tragic in its end, continues to inspire people around the world.

From the moment of his birth in the early 2000s, Cecil displayed an unmistakable air of distinction. His striking, luscious mane set him apart from other lions, and his calm and confident demeanour marked him as a natural ruler. 

Closeup of Cecil the majestic lion

Cecil could just be the most famous lion ever to walk the plains of Africa

In 2009, along with his coalition brother, Jericho, Cecil faced a grave challenge when the two encountered another established pride. Sadly, Jericho was killed, and Cecil sustained severe injuries. However, even after fleeing, Cecil's fortitude prevailed, and he later formed his own pride of 20 members strong.

Jericho the lion resting under a tree

Strong and loyal Jericho, long live his memory

Cecil's Struggles

Throughout his life, Cecil confronted many dangers, including predators, diseases, and human encroachment. Sadly, it was the latter that ultimately led to his untimely death. In 2015, he was illegally hunted and killed by an American dentist, Walter Palmer. The news of Cecil's tragic end reverberated around the world, sparking outrage and prompting a call to action to protect endangered species and preserve the natural world.

Despite the tragedy of his death, Cecil's memory and legacy endure, reminding us of his true status as one of Africa's lion kings. His courage and unwavering spirit continue to inspire people around the world. Cecil was a true king, and his story will always be a powerful symbol of the importance of conservation and the value of every living creature.

Cecil's lion cubs

Cecil's offspring and "grand-cubs" can still be seen in Hwange National Park till this day

Meet the Mapogo Lions – Six Ferocious Kings

The Mapogo lion coalition, made infamous by the acclaimed wildlife documentary, "Brothers in Blood: The Lions of the Sabi Sand", is a notorious band of brothers that embarked on a ruthless quest to dominate and rule the Sabi Sand Game Reserve of the Kruger National Park in South Africa.

The six lions of the Mapogo coalition

Here you see the Mapogo lion coalition, a notorious band of brothers, Image Credit: Daniel Dolpire

Comprised of six male lions, led by Makulu, the coalition included Dreadlocks, Prettyboy, Rasta, Kinky Tail, and the infamous Mr. T (named after the iconic Mr. T character from "The A-Team" due to his brutal nature and striking Mohawk hairstyle). In March 2006, they boldly claimed an impressive 70,000 hectares of territory by force, displaying their dominance with unprecedented aggression.

Mr T got his name from his classic hairstyle resembling that of the Mr T character

Unlike other lion coalitions, who usually enter new areas discreetly, the Mapogo clan made their presence known with great authority. Their sizable advantage of six members allowed them to rule over eight prides, completely changing the hierarchy of the entire Sabi Sand ecosystem.

The coalition ruled a large territory, but behind their massive power lay a tumultuous underbelly of internal competition and rivalry. Their dominance continued for years, but cracks started to form, and bonds started to break.

Eventually, in 2012, while roaming alone, Mr T was outnumbered and killed by a rival coalition, the Selatis. After this, the rest of the Mapogo lions slowly split and mysteriously disappeared, marking the end of their legendary reign.

By sticking together, they increased their chances of survival, Image Credit: Mike’s Birds (Flickr)

"The Great Kings of the Past Look Down on Us..."

While "The Lion King" may be a beloved classic, nothing compares to the tales of Africa's REAL lion kings. These majestic beasts reign supreme with stories of unwavering strength and fierce leadership. And although some of these legends have passed on, their legacy lives on through their "grown-cubs" and "grand-cubs."

Witness their descendants rule the wilds of Africa to this day, experience the majesty of "The Lion King" in its truest form, and start planning your own unforgettable lion safari in Africa!

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Big 5, Real Lion Kings, Sabi Sand Game Reserve


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About the author 

Michelle Welvering

Growing up, Michelle always wanted to become a world-renowned artist, a kickboxing-champion and an eccentric explorer – aka a Kickboxing Exploring Artist! After pursuing an education in Fine Arts and opening her own Kickboxing gym in Pretoria, an unexpected twist led her to a six-year stint as a travel consultant in South African tourism. She believes that all things happen for a reason and, driven by adventure, she was eager to find a more “wild” and cultural space to call home. This led her to wander the Western Cape coastline, fall in love with the city of Cape Town and, of course, her workplace, Rhino Africa.

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