This last week has been dominated by one very exciting sighting on the 30th.
I happened upon Jenje Boys males M108 and M110, “Toulouse” and “Mukadza”, in the morning, striding through the Combretum / mopane woodland towards the Nyamuni river; a relatively remote area with few sightings within what is believed to be the Kanjedza Pride’s territory. Eventually visual was lost as they descended into the riverbed and I decided to head back towards the Kanjedza River and lakeshore area in hope of picking up telemetry signal for lioness F101, “Ivory”.
“Ivory” was last sighted on the 3rd of September and prior to that on the 19th August, with 2 cubs c. 8 weeks old. Between these sightings signal has been very scarce and difficult to obtain as she has resided mostly in the upper reaches of the Eastern rivers of the Park. The juvenile elephant kill located last month showed spoor of 2 adult lionesses in the carcass' vicinity alongside that of the Jenje Boys males, and it was presumed one set is likely to have been for “Ivory”, however no cub spoor was in the area. Were the cubs still alive?
Signal for “Ivory” on the 30th led me up the False Kanjedza river, but once again to an inaccessible area. With the increasing staccato beeps of signal my frustration and disappointment grew. She was so close, yet so far. I turned back on my tracks defeated but as I rounded the river bend I stumbled onto Kanjedza Pride lions F115 and M102, “Kanjedza” and “Madiba”. Both in great condition they were lounging in the crimson sand listening to the surrounding bush. The young male “Madiba” was somewhat cautious of the vehicle so all movements were kept to a minimum in the hot car. Eventually the cryptic lioness “Ivory” made an appearance from a nearby bush and sat with her pride members; hesitant of the vehicle’s presence. Having not seen her in such a long time her familiarity with the vehicle is likely to have waivered. In hopes of counteracting this I remained with the pride, as silent and still as possible.
After trying to find relief in a small corner of shade in the car the waiting paid off. Bounding and springing out of the bush from where “Ivory” had arrived from came two very energetic cubs. They bounced their way through the sand to “Kanjedza” first to wake the sleeping lioness and over to possible ‘big-brother’ “Madiba”. The large, young male bared his teeth as the youngsters rubbed their tiny heads into his blonde, wispy mane, most likely due to fear of close proximity to the 2 little females. Quite often sub-adult males are kept at bay from cubs by pride females, sometimes in an aggressive manner, and this behaviour can lead to males being ousted from their natal prides.
Satisfied with their greeting of “Madiba” the litter headed to mother “Ivory” and followed her to rest in the shade of a small cliff-face along the river’s edge. The reshuffling for shade space caused “Kanjedza” to rise and move off allowing for closer inspection of further signs of pregnancy. The last 2 sightings of her have shown the female to be becoming more heavy and swollen. Now the lioness was showing swollen mammary glands, extended teats and browning fur - sure signs of suckling. This could mean the lioness has a litter of her own somewhere, however it is also likely the 2 cubs present, aged c. 4-5 months now, are suckling “Kanjedza” ad lib.
The cubs were double the size since my last sighting of them and were in perfect condition. “Ivory” was looking slightly lean however suckling two cubs, predominantly alone, will result in weight loss. With the continuing increase of game in the lakeshore areas and around the producing springs inland, it is likely the pride will be sourcing game sufficiently this time of year.
Questions are now arising regarding “Madiba’s” time left with the pride, with the cub’s integration into the pride, and another possible litter close by. This is the second confirmed litter I have observed the male with since the onset of the study and have yet to see any evidence of his ‘exile’ from the pride. However, Matusadona is dominated by closed woodland with little visibility and it is these habitat types that see young males remain within their natal pride territory longer than their counterparts in open savannah areas by simple avoidance of aggressive pride members in the thick vegetation.