Monitoring the lion population in Matusadona National Park as part of the implementation of the Conservation Strategy and Action Plan for the Lion in Zimbabwe
Matusadona National Park (MNP) once supported Africa’s second highest density of lions. The plentiful grasslands on the foreshore of Lake Kariba provided for swelling herds of buffalo and consequently the lions thrived. Yet, following fluctuations in lake levels and increases in poaching, the buffalo herds disappeared, quickly followed by the lions. The last census of lions in 2005 suggested just 28 individuals (down from nearly 90 individuals in 1998) remained on the valley floor and concerns have since been raised as to the populations long term viability.
MNP is also home to a designated Intensive Protection Zone for its black rhino population. Cheetah, leopard, hyena and wild dog are also known to inhabit the area, but a lack of in situ fieldwork has resulted in insufficient and out dated information regarding these species and the workings of this unique ecosystem.
The Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority’s Conservation Strategy and Action Plan for the Lion in Zimbabwe was set in place in 2006 to strengthen and guide the conservation and management of Zimbabwe’s lion population, but reviews of previous studies and literature for the strategy revealed “information on population status, current distribution and trend still remains lacking…” and key areas for research and management include “Improved understanding of the ecology and biology for the lion, including its habitat and prey.”
MNP is an important Lion Conservation Unit within a larger lion-stronghold habitat patch, yet information regarding this population’s current conservation status and viability is unknown. Population pressures that may be present and ecological constraints are poorly researched and little understood.
ALERT has partnered with the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority and the National University of Science and Technology to undertake this intensive population ecology study to determine the current lion population status, measure its viability and identify possible population stressors, whilst providing invaluable insights into the ecology and demography of this important population.
The majority of field research for the project is undertaken within the valley floor area where lions were historically abundant. A total of 6 lions from 3 resident prides and 1 male coalition in the area have been fitted with satellite GPS collars to aid the gathering of ecological data. Survey work is also being undertaken in the little accessed escarpment area of the Park to determine lion density and prey availability there. Other databases being compiled include valley floor prey availability, other large predator presence and density, lakeshore vegetation growth and quality and lion trophy harvesting in surrounding consumptive areas.
ALERT is also assisting MNP ZPWMA ecologist, Mr Mudungwe, with his doctoral studies at NUST on human-lion conflict in surrounding communal lands.
Click here for more information about lions in Zimbabwe.