Matusadona Lion Project - Week Six
April 8 2015

I spent 2-3 days at the end of March placing camera traps around the Sanyati West area and along the base escarpment road which has recently been opened up and made more passable thanks to the efforts of MAPP and ZPWMA. My hopes are to catch evidence of the still missing M102, “Madiba”.

My priorities thereafter were to follow up on a report kindly passed on by MAPP following the injured elephant we all attended to last week. En route back to Changa Safari Camp the Eastern Pride lionesses were spotted by the Gordon’s Bay area with 4 cubs in tow…

On the 1st I picked up signal for lioness F107, “Elizabeth”, of the Eastern Pride in the Kemurara 3 Bay area. This is the first time I have observed her presence this far East of the Jenje river in 10 months dispelling my concerns the pride were in fact no longer utilising the full extent of their known territory. I circled along the lakeshore following increasing VHF signal and was soon met by the sight of a very small, golden face peering at the vehicle from beneath a coco bush. Lionesses F105, “Sanyati”, and F109, “Matusadona”, alongside Elizabeth sleepily peered up at my arrival briefly and behind the lionesses were another 3 curious cubs. 

Mother lioness F105 with one of her male cubs

After positioning a suitable/comfortable distance from the pride the 4 youngsters braved the open and came to investigate. All were in very good condition and looked to be perfectly well-fed. This litter is most likely the suspected cubs of Sanyati who was spotted in the concerned area back in February showing signs of suckling. Pride mate Matusadona however is also suckling the energetic litter, providing a more than sufficient amount of milk. And during some rowdy play bouts, where many a branch was overpowered suffocated, I was able to confirm all 4 cubs were male. 

Some rowdy playing

Lions have litters from 1-6 cubs with most common numbers being 1-4, so this litter is not out of the ordinary. What is fascinating is the sex ratio of cubs. Generally speaking there is a 50:50 ratio however many species, including lions will deviate from this even split to favour the more productive sex when needs be. The the case of lions this is often towards males when larger litters are produced in the wild. A study undertaken in the Serengeti National Park found a significant bias towards male cubs within larger litters and those born after a pride take over. Males born within the same litter, or ‘cohort’, are likely to mature together to form a coalition once of age, and it is the coalitions of 3+ that maintain longer pride tenures generally, increasing their fitness. 

All the litter together

After a pride take over females will usually synchronise breeding resulting in pride females raising litters communally that are aged c. 1-2 months apart. Increased maternal care increases cub survival and therefore increases the likelihood of the production of a ‘successful’ male coalition in the long run. Given what appears to be a lack of male lions observed so far in Matusadona in previous years, this is an insightful turn of events for the population. Any coalition born within the valley floor population will roam beyond its natal pride and will hopefully provide genetic diversity elsewhere within the greater Zambezi Valley population. 

It should be noted lion ecology can vary immensely across populations, whereby what is observed in East Africa may not be applicable to those populations of Southern Africa.

Lionesses F107 & F109 socialise with the attention of one cub

I managed to follow the pride for 3 days around the Gordon’s Bay area before Elizabeth left to join pride male M108, “Toulouse” for a surprising mating bout. Meanwhile pride male M109, “Madoda”, had once again fragmented and headed West to the Muuyu Island area where he met with Tashinga lioness, F121. This lioness I have only sighted once before and this sighting was my first confirmation that the Jenje Boys coalition are mating with the Tashinga Pride. The mating bout allowed me to gather much needed photographs to build an ID kit for this lioness and to monitor Madoda’s movements more closely as we will be attempting to collar him later this month. 

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