Written by: Kelly Robertson
Majete Wildlife Reserve is proud to be the only ‘Big 5’ reserve in Malawi with the king and queen of beasts roaming its wilderness. However, it wasn’t long ago that Majete was in peril. Majete’s story is one fit for a fairytale; replete with courage, dedication and passion as it was saved from the clutches of poachers and transformed into a magnificent protected wildlife area.
In August 2012, Robin Pope Safaris supported African Parks in their work to reintroduce lions to the reserve. Today five lions call Majete home, and there are rumours that the pitter patter of tiny paws might be heard in its bushveld soon.
Guests at Robin Pope’s Safaris’ Mkulumadzi Camp in Majete are spoilt with frequent sightings of the pride of lions, which is incredible considering that the reserve was almost barren of all wildlife not long ago.
Queen of Majete
The lioness that reigns as queen over Majete is named Shire, and she is thriving in her kingdom. She was successfully relocated to the area three years ago and has since raised two healthy cubs.
In August 2012, according to our friends at African Parks, two male and two female lions provided by the North West Parks and Tourism Board in South Africa were introduced to Majete. One of these four lions was Shire, a two year old female from Madikwe that was flown for approximately eight hours before being transported from Nchalo airstrip to Majete.
This was the first time in Africa that lions were moved by plane between countries and such relocation involving long periods of sedation carries risks for wild animals.
Sadly one of the females died from hypoxia and hypertension during the flight, which made the survival of the other three lions all the more triumphant. Shire and the two males, Sapitwa and Chimwala, spent one month in a purpose-built boma in Majete for quarantine purposes and to bond into a pride.
Three days before the intended release date, the staff at the reserve stopped feeding the lions in preparation for the move to where they would be released. However, Shire had other plans and, being a savvy opportunist, she noticed a baboon had jumped into the boma and was foraging beneath a tree.
She quietly began stalking the primate before pouncing. It didn’t stand a chance, and breakfast was served! Three days later she was collared with a satellite collar so that staff could monitor her movements. She was then released into the reserve, which marked the beginning of her freedom in her new home.
In May 2013 she separated herself from the two males and moved to a rocky outcrop where she went unseen for a few months. Majete scouts tried on countless occasions to locate her as it was presumed she had given birth to a cub.
However, Shire refused to let the scouts get close in their attempts, and she either hid or charged at them. She was not ready for the world to be privy to her secret. Four months later she emerged with two healthy cubs – one female and one male – bringing the total number of lions at Majete up to five. It has not yet been ascertained which of the two adult male lions is the father but it is suspected to be Chimwala.
During the first few months of their lives Shire and the cubs remained mostly apart from the males, and she was elusive and protective over her cubs. As time passed the mother and her cubs began moving further afield and the trio were regularly spotted by Majete staff and guests.
As the cubs grew into fully developed adults, Shire continued to hone their hunting skills. This was witnessed when they worked together to kill a young sable. The two cubs drove the sable towards Shire who was lying in wait before leaping into the air and bringing it down.
Since then she has been moving around the reserve, teaching them to hunt and fend for themselves. The cubs are now two years old and are formidable hunters in their own right thanks to the amazing job that Shire has done in rearing them.
Early this year she started to show suspected signs of pregnancy, and the Majete team are monitoring the situation and hoping for a new litter. Thanks to Shire and her pride, there story of the Majete Wildlife Reserve could be a fairytale after all.