For Principle Reserach Rae Kokes its been a more subdued week this week in terms of sightings, but there has been one very significant finding.
The large male M108, ‘Toulouse’, has continued to follow the Kanjedza Pride lionesses relentlessly. His efforts appear to have turned towards lioness F115, ‘Kanjedza’, this week, allowing lioness F101, ‘Ivory’, to move off undetected. I’ve noted the lioness spending fairly long periods in a dense thicket along the upper banks of the Kemurara 2 river, an ideal denning area. Are her cubs perhaps still around? She has been potentially absent from her litter for approximately a week, however this is not unheard of and there may well be a chance that another Kanjedza Pride female is with the cubs. This third lioness I have not sighted since May, yet I did receive a report of 3 lionesses and 1 male recently loitering along the lakeshore close to the recently poached elephants. Given the continued absence of the Eastern Pride in this area I strongly suspect if 3 lionesses were in fact spotted this third female may very well by F102. If she is lactating perhaps for her own litter she may also be providing for ‘Ivory’s’ cubs in her absence. This is merely speculation however and only continued monitoring will provide answers.
On the 11th I finally managed to track down the Eastern Pride lionesses close to the Kings Camp area of the park along the lakeshore. Only 5 of 6 pride members were sighted, sleeping amongst the Coco bushes after finishing an impala kill evident by a discarded leg and maroon stained Panicum grass.
Satellite GPS coordinates were checked for ‘Toulouse’ on the morning of the 12th showing he was along the lakeshore of the Nyamuni River area. A pro guide from Changa Safari Camp took a small group of staff and myself to the area where we proceeded to walk along the waters edge. We finally tip toed towards the male to find him still alongside lioness ‘Kanjedza’.
By the 14th coordinates for the other collared male M110, ‘Mukadza’, were showing he was residing in one precise area now for 3 days in a row. Fortunately there was some movement between the 4 daily uploaded coordinates confirming he was still alive, and must in fact be feeding on something substantial. Although there was a likelihood that he had perhaps found himself a buffalo, given the recent spell of poaching I was concerned there was a higher probability of him finding a dead elephant. With that in mind, and with the help of the Matusadona Anti Poaching Project (MAPP), two National Parks scouts were deployed and we began our long drive towards the central scrubland area of the Park. From there we could only access the area on foot and began to meander our way along the upper reaches of the Mukadzapela River. After about an hour or so the scout leading paused. A lion grumbled and shot off from a nearby mopane bush, no doubt disturbed from his midday sleep. We continued silently forward, meters away from our plotted location. A high pitched snarl was heard and a male lion was spotted again fleeing from the area. We paused again and I scanned the area for any signs of an elephant; one was spotted some 10m ahead. We approached carefully, cautious of any other feeding lions, and were met with a surprise. The ivory on the young elephant was still intact and the carcass showed no evidence of poaching activity. This death was a natural one, thanks to the lions!
Approximately 50% had been consumed with still fresh meat on offer. Having heard other growls I inspected the area for spoor of females; was ‘Mukadza’ perhaps with another pride? I found nothing to support this and believe he was only in the company of his coalition member ‘Madoda’. So did the 2 males tackle the young elephant together? The youngster looked to be just 2-3 yrs old and if exhausted enough by continued attacks could easily be overpowered but the 2 large males.
The ivory was removed by the National Parks scouts and taken back to avoid any poachers stumbling across the find.
I have had very little reports of lions hunting elephants here so this is a great insight. Lions have been extensively studied in areas such as Hwange National Park for preying on these pachyderms and to determine the potential for similar behaviour in other areas of Zimbabwe could help extend further research into this area.
On the 15th spoor for a male and female was located heading West through the Gordons Bay area and continuing all the way to Jenje. I have only ever observed and found evidence of the Kanjedza Pride lionesses as far as the Gordons Bay area and therefore wondered who the walking lioness was I was following. The tracks continued further along the park exit road where I’ve found little lion activity in the past. I decided to check signal for the 2 collared Eastern Pride lionesses, yet momentarily had my receiver set to track ‘Ivory’ from the Kanjedza Pride - and there was signal! Completely flabbergasted I followed the signal to a small open vlei the other side of some thick mopane scrub to find ‘Ivory’, ‘Kanjedza’ and ‘Toulouse’ resting together. Have I had it wrong all along? Does the Kanjedza Pride in fact overlap substantially more with the Eastern Pride? Are such movements seasonal? Are these lionesses perhaps even peripheral hanging lions from the Eastern Pride??
Although the project is in its 5th month there is still so much to be discovered with the Matusadona valley floor lions and with the dry season quickly closing in I suspect I’m about to discover even more.