Background Female lions generally do not disperse far beyond their natal range, while males can disperse distances of over 200 km. However, in bush-like ecosystems dispersal distances less than 25 km are reported. Here, we investigate dispersal in lions sampled from the northern and southern extremes of Kruger National Park, a bush-like ecosystem in South Africa where bovine tuberculosis prevalence ranges from low to high across a north-south gradient. Results A total of 109 individuals sampled from 1998 to 2004 were typed using 11 microsatellite markers, and mitochondrial RS-3 gene sequences were generated for 28 of these individuals. Considerable north-south genetic differentiation was observed in both datasets. Dispersal was male-biased and generally further than 25 km, with long-distance male gene flow (75–200 km, detected for two individuals) confirming that male lions can travel large distances, even in bush-like ecosystems. In contrast, females generally did not disperse further than 20 km, with two distinctive RS-3 gene clusters for northern and southern females indicating no or rare long-distance female dispersal. However, dispersal rate for the predominantly non-territorial females from southern Kruger (fraction dispersers ≥0.68) was higher than previously reported. Of relevance was the below-average body condition of dispersers and their low presence in prides, suggesting low fitness. Conclusions Large genetic differences between the two sampling localities, and low relatedness among males and high dispersal rates among females in the south, suggestive of unstable territory structure and high pride turnover, have potential implications for spread of diseases and the management of the Kruger lion population.