Life and Death in Matusadona
December 6 2015

Firstly, ALERT would like to thank Garmin Zimbabwe who have generously donated a new Garmin Etrex 20 handheld GPS unit to the project that will greatly help daily tracking and mapping exercises during field work.  We would also like to thank BR Toyota for their ongoing help to maintain the research vehicle, including providing a new battery this month.

Recently, reports were received that two elephants had become stuck in thick mud in the mouth of the Gubu River. Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority (ZPWMA) personnel, Bumi Hills Anti-Poaching Unit and Safari Lodge staff, Rhino Safari Camp staff, houseboat guests, Masampa fishing camp residents, Padenga Crocodile Farm staff and myself, set about trying to free and revive the fallen cow and young bull.  It appeared they had become stuck perhaps two days prior, but after six hours or so of laying on their side elephants can suffer serious internal organ damage to organs.  Coupled with blistering heat of 40+ degrees, the twosome were in poor condition.  The rescue team spent many hours digging the elephants out of the mud, hauling them to firmer ground, where revival attempts were made.  However, after exhaustion set in for the team, and with no improvement in the animals, a heavy-hearted decision was made under the guidance of ZPWMA to cease further efforts.  The elephants have since passed away.   

Intervention with wildlife is not an easy decision. Nature, as many of us know, is relentless and cruel at times from a human perspective.  However, given recent spates in cyanide poaching of elephants in Zimbabwe, and the huge losses to the population every year across Africa to poaching, every pachyderm counts.  Sadly this time human intervention could not help.

Praise must be given to all those who assisted, some of whom suffered kicks and thumps from flying elephant legs and trunks, along with heat stroke and general stress.  Also, praise for the AWARE Trust of Zimbabwe for their greatly appreciated veterinary assistance and advice from afar.     

On the 19th of November, after having no recent sightings of the Kanjedza Pride, they were finally located up at the Bhari Spring in the Gordons Bay area. Movements noted from the GPS satellite collar on study lioness F101, “Ivory”, have provided a fascinating insight into territory use during this dry season. The small pride have been spending significant amounts of time further inland, and often in areas they have not been noted using before, along river lines and where suspected springs are. As water in land continues to dry up in the absence of any significant rains, a large proportion of animals has moved onto the foreshore, and it is here resident prides would attempt to ambush herds of impala, kudu and waterbuck from the tree line.  However, as Lake Kariba has continued to recede this year, the water level is approximately 6-7m lower than it normally is for November, this has resulted in a larger plain of foreshore this year, reducing the density of available prey in this habitat.  It is perhaps for this reason that resident prides have shifted their movements.  With the continuation of this study, and deployment of satellite collars, we can investigate and better understand the influence of the Lake on lion movements in Matusadona.

During my sighting on the 19th I was pleasantly surprised to find seven hyena in the vicinity of the Kanjedza Pride. The five adults and two sub-adults were remarkably calm in the presence of the research vehicle, and appeared to be adamantly loitering in the area due to a presumed kill and/or scavenging opportunity.  No carcass was located, but the slightly extended stomachs of lionesses Ivory and F115, “Kanjedza” supported the notion of something edible nearby.  In tow with the lionesses was cub F123, “Masibanda”.  The lean condition of Masibanda and absence of her brother M118, “Siwela”, has raised concerns of his whereabouts and daily average intake of the pride.

On the 24th the male cohort, the “Jenje Boys”, graced me with a visual in the Kanjedza River area. All three males were followed late into the evening under full moonlight as they meandered their way to the Nyamuni River. Long intervals between sightings of the males has in turn allowed me to take note more clearly of mane development.  Male M110, “Mukadza”, the smallest and blondest of the trio, has begun to sport darker chest chair, whilst male M108, “Toulouse”, has begun to grow longer and fuller elbow tufts. The males were re-sighted on the 29th by a deployment of Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority and Matusadona Anti-Poaching Project. Toulouse and male M109, “Madoda”, joined with lioness Ivory, most likely to engage in a mating bout following the suspected loss of her litter sired by the males back in September.

Matusadona was blessed with a downpour of about 9 ml some 10 days ago now, and the mopane trees have sprung back to life, transforming the bush into a scene from the Emerald City.

About the Matusadona Lion Project (MLP)

Since its commencement in 2014, the MLP, in partnership with the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority, aims to determine the population status and ecology of lions in Zimbabwe’s Matusadona National Park. The last census in 2005 suggested that just 28 individuals remained, down from nearly 90 in 1998, raising concerns over the population’s long-term viability.  The MLP is collecting data on individual lions, pride structure and distribution, as well trying to understand the environmental and human-induced pressures facing Matusadona’s lions.  This project directly contributes to the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority’s conservation and management plans for this apex predator. 

Support the Matusadona Lion Project

MLP is looking for funding to cover the running costs of the project (such as vehicle repair and fuel) as well as to acquire additional equipment (camera traps and tracking collars) to increase the amount of data being collected.  If you are able to help please make a donation here, or contact info@lionalert.org for alternative support options.

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