The following is taken from the diary of Rae Kokes, Principle Researcher for ALERT's Matusadona Lion Project.
I can’t believe we’re onto week 4 already. My concept of time has completely gone out of the window. I never know what day of the week it is - and its fantastic!
Its been another exciting and productive week. Having had two weeks of no visuals and a lack of fresh spoor in the Changachirere area I decided to follow up on a report from Levi Young of Rhino Safari Camp. He reported seeing one lioness and fresh spoor in camp. Rhino is a stunning bush camp, so visiting is never a chore!
The roads have improved since the rain has ceased and when I arrived I followed up on spoor around the habour area. It appeared timing was not on my side as the group of (a suspected) 6 females appeared to have left.
I decided to head to Mukazapela; a beautiful riverine area sprawling into a large, emerald green bay. I picked up spoor long the small intersecting road and across a small patch of snow soft, white sand. I proceeded slowly along the edge of flannel weed when I spotted something up ahead. Peering through bino’s I saw 2 males sat taking in the view across the riverbed. They were c. 250m away but appeared to have small blonde, whispy mane’s with dark chests. Unfortunately they were very skittish. As soon as one saw my static vehicle they took off into the bush, but this allowed me to guage their age a little better based on height and build and also record spoor size left on the road. They had that wonderful silvery sheen to their coats and a little excess underbelly skin, though otherwise were very stocky. I estimate them to be around 5 years old.
I returned to the area a little while later in hopes of finding the lads again. The sun sizzled away to the sound of an impala herd alarm calling. Sure enough the two males reappeared and settled in amongst the flannel weed watching a nearby herd of elephant. I approached to c. 200m and both appeared calm although the dim lighting made observing quite difficult. Out of nowhere a tremendous screech bellowed though the bay and a cow elephant stampeded out of the bush behind the lions. One male shot straight to the left whilst the other high-tailed it to higher ground but towards more elephants…The angry cow pursued the male for some time and eventually the commotion died down. The elephants sauntered off into the bush leaving one male walking off and calling, quite feebly, for his lost comrade. I was unable to locate them after this.
This finding is extremely exciting for the study. I have had no reports or even rumours of new males in the area. There were 2 males, presumably born to a pride in the area, that moved out towards Bumi in 2012, and are still residing there. I believe these other males may have come from a neighbouring concession across the Ume river and here’s hoping they reside here long enough to sire offspring. They may very well be the causes for the cuts and scrapes on ‘Shepherd's’ hindquarters as shown in photo’s of a previous blog. There could be a pride take over on the cards!
During lion searches and game counts other wildlife sightings have been pretty spectacular and I’ve been fortunate enough to bump into the resident male cheetah duo a few times. I spent an evening with them last week in the Ivory Vlei area watching them roll around in the sand and also caught them on the camera trap.
I’ve been following spoor of what appeared to be a lone lioness for the last 72hrs on the lakeshore and found the remains of a fairly recent impala kill - but no lion. Then yesterday a guide from Changa reported a lone lioness drinking from the lake and joining with 3 others. I raced over from the Kanjedza river to of course be told that they had vanished into the coco bushes. But I wasn’t giving up. I circled the ‘block’ for sometime when a deceptive looking log caught my eye (many logs look like lions, and its VERY annoying). Realising this wasn’t a cat I then glanced slightly upward into a bush to see a pile of lionesses!
I spent the entire day with them and identified them as 4 belonging to the pride of 10 I located by Jenje River some time ago. They were in fantastic condition and looked to have recently fed given the dried blood stains on their forelegs and chests. One lioness was still lactating as previously observed.
I remained with them into the night and was treated to a lovely stroll along the lake and a few unsuccessful, but none the less impressive, impala chases. I decided to leave them to it to ensure my presence wasn’t hindering any hunts and fortunately tracked them again this morning. They’ve since headed into thick mopane scrub so I will head back after lunch in hopes of them moving out once the late afternoon breezes kick in.