A time of discovery in Matusadona
October 30 2014

The sightings were scarce this week with still little sign of the Kanjedza Pride and therefore no further news as to the whereabouts of F101’s, “Ivory’s”, litter of 2 cubs.

On the 20th of October I headed to Bumi Hills Safari Lodge, west of the Matusadona National Park, on the other side of the Ume River. Shortly after arriving I was informed a houseboat moored in the Mukadzapela area had sighted a number of lions feeding on a large elephant by the waters edge. So I got back in the boat and turned straight back around!  Following a coordinate uploaded from the GPS satellite collar of Jenje Boys male M110, “Mukadza”, we meandered our way up a small inlet to find the Jenje Boys group and three of the Eastern Pride girls paddling around a fallen cow elephant.

Matusadona Lion Project

Matusadona Lion Project

Matusadona Lion Project

The elephant had died of natural causes and the lions were simply lucky enough to stumble across the bounty whilst the c. 1000kgs of flesh was still fresh. Two days were spent watching the six lions take turns in chasing off encroaching white-backed vultures and feed. Eventually a large cavity was created in the abdomen large enough to fit, well, a lion. Feeding was also interspersed with mating bouts between Jenje Boys male M108, “Toulouse” and lioness F107, “Elizabeth”. This mating event was of real interest as it appeared that “Elizabeth" was perhaps experiencing a ‘real’ oestrous cycle as opposed to the false heats that have been witnessed up until now. My inclination is based on her behaviour. The extremely forward lioness initiated many bouts and the courting pair had distanced themselves some 48hrs earlier from the pride, typical of mating lions. The mating also finished shortly after 3-4 days again indicating this was a ‘true’ oestrous cycle rather than continuing on/off appeasement sex between the new males and pride lionesses. Does this then indicate the Eastern Pride have finally accepted the Jenje Boys or some of its members as their new pride male/s?

A couple of large crocodiles also appeared at the carcass with one c. 10ft specimen feeding alongside male M109, “Madoda” perhaps after calling a truce the previous evening as it seemed the crocodile had sustained a rather nasty injury to one of its eyes, probably from a lion’s swiping paw.

Before heading back to Changachiere I was informed that one of the Bumi Hills male lions had been missing for some time now and is suspected to have been taken during a trophy hunt earlier in the year. The male fondly known as ‘Phil’ was rarely sighted and noted to reside on the periphery of the Bumi pride which is overseen by his brother ‘Mambo’. The male looked to be c. 7-8 years old when last seen and thanks to some recent photos taken of the males I have been able to confirm through whisker spot identification that the 2 males are in fact the 2 males sighted and photographed on the Valley floor in 2011. There had been strong suspicions these 2 males had swum across to the Bumi area but there had been a lack of photographic evidence to support this. Confirming such movement of males is vital in understanding the long term migration and genetic linkage of lions between protected and non-protected areas which in turn can help shed further light on pressures facing populations.

And continuing on with more discoveries. There are currently 6 camera traps out in place at the moment being checked regularly. One camera has been placed beside a commonly used game trail by the lions and resident leopards, but in the early hours of the 18th a pangolin was caught tip-toeing along the trail! Pangolins have never been sighted in the area or supposedly in Kariba, so this is quite a significant finding. For those who aren’t familiar, pangolins are extremely rare mammals belonging to the Manidae family, and are also known and described as ’scaly anteaters’. They are wonderfully odd creatures prowling around at night on their hind legs in search of ants and termites and curling up into a tight, protective ball when threatened. There are 4 species of pangolin in Africa and Zimbabwe is home to the ‘Cape' or 'Temminck’s ground pangolin'. Sadly all species also highly sought after for medicinal purposes and many are caught alive and/or poached for their scales (made of keratin) which has led to a huge decline in numbers. Sorry for the poor quality of the photo but none-the-less very exciting!

Matusadona Lion Project
 

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