Matusadona Lion Project: Week Seven
April 15 2015

The late rains, although much appreciated for the newly sprawling grasslands, are causing driving havoc. This week has seen the ALERT research vehicle in ditches, gullies and holes whilst attempting to track down specific individuals for collaring this coming week. I should point out this is due to infamously difficult black cotton soil here and not the driving skills of the researcher…

In between being winched out of mud, more sightings have been obtained of the 3 Eastern Pride females and their 4 cubs. They were located out in the open of the Sanyati West Bay area on the 8th with noticeably larger stomachs. It appeared the small pride had taken a young waterbuck a few hours before and devoured all but the skull and a few joints. At c. 3 months old the cubs are enjoying a diet of both meat and milk and even at this young age typical aggressive lion table manners can be seen. The cubs spat, spluttered and growled at one another as the gorged lionesses looked on. 

During this sighting and others later during the week of the cubs, I have begun to suspect that the 4 cubs are possibly 2 litters of 2 males each belonging to F105 (Sanyati) and F109 (Matusadona), this would explain why Matusadona has not been noted to have left the pride to den and why both lionesses are suckling all cubs so tentatively. Meanwhile, pride member F107 (Elizabeth) is showing no signs of suckling nor of being obviously pregnant. 

On the 9th the pride covered c. 4-5kms and made their way to Fothergill Island. It was almost to the year in fact that I last located the pride in this specific area and last time as some of you may remember was when lioness Matusadona fatally led her litter of 3 across open water to the island. Fortunately for the pride the lakeshore has expanded by some 100-160m in this area allowing for safe passage to Fothergill. It seemed the pride were in pursuit of a herd of zebra. 12 zebra have been seen in this area, which is a very rare sight! Every year the zebra graze on the lush lakeshore following the rains before returning inland. Their movements are little known and it is presumed they remain towards the base of the escarpment in the woodland only evident by spoor here and there. A recently reviewed camera trap near the escarpment however revealed that this area is supporting what looks to be a plentiful population of game including zebra and impala. 

The Eastern Pride, despite their best efforts failed to take a zebra but did undertake a fantastic ambushing effort on an unsuspecting herd of +100 impala back on the mainland lakeshore. Using the towering flannel weed and the dwindling daylight on the 11th the lionesses, with cubs in tow, flanked into the mopane scrub as the herd grazed along the edge. Using the vegetation cover they circled towards their quarry and broke from the tree line catching an adult ewe. The carcass was split and quartered quickly amongst the lionesses. The crying cubs mingled between the adults in pursuit of a mouthful only to be met with snarls and swatting paws. In the case of smaller prey such as impala, lionesses will not always allow cubs to feed and in fact it is the pride males, who often feed first, that allow the smaller mouths to have their fill. For now it would seem the 4 cubs are being provided for sufficiently by the pride lionesses despite the absence of their pride males.

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