Going West with the Eastern Pride
April 30 2014

The Eastern pride have finished up with the Changachirere peninsula area for now and have headed west. The pride moved out of the area on the evening on the 20th of April it seems, but not before posing for the Mukuti Road camera trap. 

Matusadona Lion Project

I have had reports of the lions reaching Rhino Safari Camp some 15-20kms away in the last 72hrs. It would seem the camp and the island it is on is another favourite drop-in for the lions. Taking GPS coordinates for sightings over the last 2 weeks along with dates and times I have been able to roughly map out the pride’s movements and the area covered. During their time in the area they averaged c. 2kms a day which is quite minimal, however this is most likely due to the high density of impala along the lakeshore currently. 

My plans had been to follow the pride and determine if F109, ‘Matusadona’, had also headed west with her litter of 3. Unfortunately my vehicle had other ideas and whilst heading out to the Jenje River area checking camera traps set by the Zambezi Society, the car died.

On the 24th, with a new battery in place, the vehicle was up and running again, and I headed out towards the Kanjedza River area anticipating that perhaps the Kanjedza pride would return to the area with the Eastern pride now elsewhere. The Kanjedza pride haven’t been sighted for nearly 6 weeks and are quite a strange group consisting of 2 lionesses, 1 very large sub adult male, a juvenile female and what is presumed to be a sub adult female with a growth problem, fondly known as ‘White Fang’. I am speculating as to whether this is the entire pride and/or if perhaps the females are distant members of the Eastern pride. Having seen so little of them however determining the pride's size and movements has been difficult.

Spurwing Island Lodge general manager, Mitch Riley, kindly took me walking along the Kanjedza River in search of spoor that afternoon. Beautiful, towering, ochre red river banks gave way to iridescent green mopane scrub and the river sand told an intricate story of the previous night’s visitors. We located intermingled hyena and leopard spoor when, suddenly, an overpowering stench caught our attention. We climbed on top of the river bank, sniffing as we went, when Mitch spotted some lion spoor.  Lions often have quite a pungent smell and this lingered in the area suggesting they had left recently. Faeces dotted the area and swept sand indicated the lions had been laying and rolling around. It was obvious the lions had been feeding on something.

We followed the spoor up the other riverbank and the smell of death grew and grew. Although no feeding could be heard it was not certain the lions had left the area. Clambering up steep river banks to where sleeping lions may lay is quite daunting and as we crept into the scrub the hairs on the back of my neck began to stand on end. We soon found the source of the foul smell; a kudu bull kill. It appeared quite a fight had taken place between predator and prey, evident by the broken branches and vegetation surrounding the carcass.  The lions had quite literally licked the bones clean, leaving behind his magnificent horns. Such finds are always a huge asset to the research. Skull measurements and horn lengths can be accurate indicators of an animal’s age and therefore provide further detail on prey preferences of the lions. 

Measurements were taken and we decided to continue towards the false Kanjedza River area; a small tributary nearby. En route a Changa Safari Camp guide radioed to inform me of a sighting of a lioness by the Kemurara 3 river. Although the Eastern pride were suspected to have left the area spoor had been reported from the lakeshore suggesting a lioness may have stayed behind. My first thoughts were this was perhaps that lone lioness. The guide went on to describe the lion as very large and possibly pregnant. F108 or ‘Jenje', a lioness of the Eastern pride is suspected to be pregnant but she has never been seen alone so far. Then it clicked. Was perhaps the large extended stomach of the sighted lioness not perhaps a consequence of a large kill? I decided to turn around and head SW towards Kemurara 3 in hopes of obtaining a visual and confirming who the lion was. Luckily I managed to find her and another lion in the fast disappearing light in the Sanyati West Bay area and couldn’t believe it. It was F101 and M103! ‘Ivory’ and ‘Madiba’, the lioness and sub adult male of the Kanjedza pride.

Matusadona Lion Project

Having had no sign of them for so long this was a wonderful sighting, and it all too soon became very apparent that they were the kudu kill culprits. Both showed very swollen, swaying tummies as they moved off into the scrub. Their behaviour also suggested that the rest of the pride were close by; however we lost visual and I have only been able to find fresh spoor today.

It would seem these lions are quite clandestine in their movements, not utilising the roads as often as the Eastern pride, making tracking quite difficult. Despite that this sighting is very exciting and very interesting. It seems the Kanjedza pride have quite a large territory overlap with the Eastern pride and are perhaps actively avoiding them.

A National Geographic cameraman kindly took me with him this morning whilst my vehicle was out of action, and we were fortunate enough to find the two cheetah brothers in the Ivory Vlei area calling to one another. This sighting certainly made up for frustrations over the vehicle.

Matusadona Lion Project: Cheetah

Exceprts from the diary of Rae Kokes, Principle Researcher for ALERT's Matusadona Lion Project.

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