This week almost feels as though a month has passed with so much to report on, but I will try keep to the highlights.
I left the Eastern Pride lionesses in the Mucheni area on the 13th of October after watching the playful threesome take to the shade of the shoreline's Coco bushes. It turns out my “gut-feeling” to stay longer should have held more weight as the lionesses put on a fantastic show for some Rhino Safari Camp guests that afternoon with a water monitor kill by the waters edge.
However my luck came back on the 14th with Jenje Boys male, M110, “Mukadza”, and the last 2 remaining male cheetah of Matusadona National Park. I found ‘Mukadza’ at the mouth of the Kanjedza River at first light, sat prone and vigilant. Some 150m away along the shore the cheetah brothers had a fresh impala kill. One brother fled into the scrub perturbed by the impending conflict whilst the other began a courageous display of defence.
The now lone male cheetah rose to his delicate paws and paced tentatively towards the lion - his hackles stood erect as he howled an ominous growl at this large competitor. Accepting the challenge, ‘Mukadza’, still full from a recent buffalo kill, also stood to attention and proceeded towards the other cat. His pace soon quickened to a trot and his tail spun wildly in a deadly circle as he charged.
The cheetah, understandably unable to fight an animal 3 times his weight, raced off into the scrub and quickly vanished. Satisfied with this ‘Mukadza’ turned back to the abandoned impala where he enjoyed a brief moment of playing with the carcass before carrying it off to feed on at his leisure.
Lions are often charged with cheetah mortality and kleptoparasitism (a form of feeding in which one animal takes prey or other food from another has caught). It has led to lions being given a reputation as the ‘bullies’ of the savannah. However research published earlier this year questioned whether lions are in fact a major pressure on cheetah survival. In areas other than the Serengeti cheetahs faired very well in areas of high lion density. In the 1990’s 17 cheetah were introduced into Matusadona as a founder population. Today it is believed that there are only 3 cheetah residing on the valley floor, that are not breeding due to kinship. The reasons for this decline are unknown at present.
Data is being gathered on cheetah as and when sighted to provide an insight into their current range, habitat use and prey preferences within MNP. It appears all 3 cheetah are residing within the territories of both the Kanjedza and Eastern Prides. I have witnessed both species in close proximity of one another but no interaction until now.
By the 15th I had noted male lion M108, “Toulouse”, had been spending significant amounts of time by the False Kanjedza coinciding with VHF telemetry signal for lioness F101, “Ivory”, also in that area. A recent walk by a Changa Safari Camp owner Kevin Higgins fortunately found the reason for the loitering - another elephant kill! From examining spoor it seems “Toulouse” and the Kanjedza Pride lionesses took down a 3-4 year old elephant in a small tributary within a perfect ambush area and enjoyed the bounty for at least 3 days. I have not sighted lioness “Ivory” for some time now and therefore have no further information as to the health and status of her litter of 2 cubs.
From the diary of Principal Researcher Rae Kokes