Some great lion sightings during the last two weeks from the valley floor interspersed with wonderful herds of game on the floodplain. As the lake recedes ever more waterbuck and zebra have been spotted from the Mukadzapela region all the way to the Kanjedza river mouth to the east of the park. These species appear to have always occurred in small numbers, noted since studies undertaken in the 1990s, but a sighting of 25 waterbuck recently was a promising sign of perhaps an ungulate increase.
On the 20th of May the Eastern Pride were located heading East through the Kemurara 3 bay area. This small pride are covering quite large tracts with their small counterparts in tow yet all 4 cubs were still looking very well fed and full of energy. However lioness F105, “Sanyati”, showed signs of a recent fight on her hind right leg. Deep lacerations by her hip made suckling obviously very uncomfortable and she continually rebuffed all attempts by the 4 cubs. The wounds are difficult to assess in terms of cause but I suspect possibly an altercation with another lion. On the 12th the pride were noted to be in the direct vicinity of the Tashinga Pride briefly on Muuyu Island - had they since crossed paths again?
By the 24th the pride headed back West. At 04:30am whilst staying at Rhino Safari Camp I was awoken by the distinct meows of a hungry cub and gentle moans of a tentative mother. The pride passed between the rooms and off into the bush unbeknown to many sleeping guests. The following morning the females were tracked to the Mucheni spring where they had found a dead hippo. They, alongside pride males M108, “Toulouse", and M110, “Mukadza”, enjoyed this scavenging opportunity for over 2 days.
Over the next following few days I made attempts to obtain visuals of the Tashinga Pride in hopes of determining the whereabouts of the 3 young males sighted with them in December. It is expected they may have been driven off and/or killed by the Jenje Boys after their take over last year and I have seen no sign of them since. A poor road network in this region of the park makes tracking this particular pride extremely difficult however I was kindly escorted on foot by professional guides and ZPWMA scouts where needed. 3 pride females were briefly sighted in the Bhizi river on the 25th, and on the 27th tracked again in the company of the pride males. Whilst stood in the bushes trying to obtain a visual of resting collared lioness F121, “Chura”, sat some 35m away from us, young female F122 “Muchenyi” came rambling along a game trail completely oblivious to our group and gave herself quite a fright when she finally looked up and heard our polite “excuse me”. I finally obtained a visual of some pride members on the 28th with male M109, “Madoda” who appeared to be covering lioness F120, “Amai”, but there was no sign of any other males.
Yesterday however was quite a spectacular afternoon. After my usual failed attempt to track Kanjedza Pride lionesses F101, “Ivory” and F115, “Kanjedza” in the Kanjedza river area I headed back out with professional guide Sean Hind of Changa Safari Camp. We followed mobile telemetry signal for collared lioness Ivory through thinning mopane scrub when leading Sean suddenly crouched. I instantly did the same and there some 20m away the lionesses stared back at us. All my attempts to track this pride by foot have ended with the lionesses fleeing, sometimes following a mock charge. Today for some reason was different.
Ivory sat on her side gazing at us, and Kanjedza also remaining lounging on her side, studied the huddled humans. Kanjedza gave us a brief snap but mimicked contact calls appeared to ease her aggression. For 10 mins we studied every muscle twitch, tail flick, blink and breath - it was magical. Lions are very readable in terms of body language which is most useful when encountering on foot. A soft blink and glance elsewhere is a good sign of lion relaxing, along with the ceasing of a flickering tail and casual seated position. This is the first time I have met these 2 study animals on foot displaying such a relaxed demeanour. I believe we had caught them off guard allowing little time to flee from our approach. They had also fed recently, apparent from extended stomachs, and the combination of good vegetation cover and open areas of the mopane scrub allowed for both species to sit and feel somewhat safe in one another’s presence. Eventually as light began to fade we backed off for safety. Despite appearing more at ease with us, lions are different characters under nightfall. A brief mock charge was given as we rose and shuffled backwards then we all parted ways - hearts beating in our throats.
The need for a reliable, working vehicle is a MUST for any field research project and the ALERT research vehicle is a life line here in Matusadona. Unfortunately the source of the life line (diesel) is running out. I am down to just 100l which is going to make tracking and surveying very difficult. This could not have come at a worse time as we are looking to begin survey work in the escarpment area during the next 2 months along with the collaring of our final study animal. If anyone is willing and able to donate what they can to help with fuel costs please do so here and note “Matusadona Lion Project” - https://www.justgiving.com/africanlion/donate/. Every little helps. Thank you!