Matusadona Lion Project: Week Three
March 19 2015

There have been some fantastic sightings this last week, as it seems that the lions have preoccupied themselves with repopulating the Matusadona. 

On the 8th, the 'Jenje Boys' pride males headed east towards the Changachirere area - having full satisfied themselves from the previous week’s elephant kill. It would appear the normally fragmented male, M10 (Madoda), is spending more time with his other two counterparts at the moment, which is helping form an impressive alliance. I located the males in the very early morning hours, barely visible in the darkness whilst lying in the road. Often after substantial feeds and when lions are provided optimum resources, they can afford to ‘waste’ or dispel excess energy through play.  The exuberant males bounded after one another through the mopane scrub and looked to thoroughly enjoy stop/start races along the road-side before disappearing into the bush. 

By the late evening of the 9th, I left the trio in the Kanjedza River area and, failing to locate them on the 10th, I headed to the Gordons Bay lakeshore on the 11th to investigate where they had been residing for the previous afternoon and evening. After ‘bundu-bashing’ my way along an overgrown road, I finally broke onto the lakeshore and found a large flock of vultures maniacally feeding against a magnificent backdrop of misty escarpment. The scavengers were finishing off the remains of a sub-adult hippo. Despite previous studies in the area noting hippo making up a large portion of the resident lion’s dietary intake, I have yet to see any evidence of such a kill myself. 

After driving the vultures off, I inspected the carcass to try to determine whether or not this young animal was indeed the work of the males or just a scavenge opportunity. The carcass had 3-4 notably large punctures on its back and abdomen that looked to be from the tusks of another hippo. Hippos are notoriously territorial and aggressive, resulting in many dying in conflict. There was also, however, many smaller punctures around the throat area that appeared to be inflicted by canines alongside some fresher looking scratches on its back. I suspect that this hippo was perhaps on land after being wounded by another during conflict and, in its injured state, was preyed upon by the 3 males - providing them with a relatively easy catch. 

With the lake STILL falling, more lakeshore is appearing and I wound my way back to the Sanyati West Bay area via the grasslands. Here I picked up the signal for Kanjedza Pride lioness F101 (Ivory) and soon located her with male M110 (Mukadza). 

Ivory has been noted mating with both Madoda and male M108 (Toulouse) intermittently since last year during numerous false heats - even whilst caring for a litter of two. By the end of November, Ivory lost her litter to male Mukadza, and I suspect her lack of appeasement and socialising with this particular male contributed to this act of infanticide. However, Mukadza’s efforts seemed to have worked in his favour, as Ivory was very obviously in heat on this day and was more than welcoming towards the interested male. The pair mated every 10-15 minutes throughout the day, into the 12th and then 13th. This is the first time I have observed Ivory being in a ‘true’ heat and serves as more evidence that the ‘Jenje Boys’ have been accepted as the Kanjedza Pride males.

Quite often when coming across a female in heat a coalition of males will merely follow a 'first-come-first-serve’ etiquette rather than fighting amongst one another. For related males, physical altercations amongst one another over breeding rights is counterproductive, for at the end of the day the same blood line is being passed on. However, many coalition members are in fact not related, yet these non-related males still demonstrate a similar level of cooperation and association with one another even in the presence of females. Fights can still take place however, but it is in no male’s interest to suffer a fatal injury over a breeding opportunity. 

In the case of the Jenje Boys, it is Mukadza who has often won the first mating rights of a female through a more aggressive and dominant tone. This may be a result of his smaller size compared to his peers. However, during some mating bouts, the other males have remained in the vicinity of the courting pair. This is known as ‘satellite’ behaviour, whereby other males will loiter and follow at a distance - ready to take over mating duties should the current male become distracted. A lot is to be said for sexual selection on the female’s part too, as they often seek males with darker manes. Ivory, however, seemed somewhat content with her blonde-maned partner for some time; though her kicks to his face on the 13th began to suggest otherwise.

As Toulouse and Madoda struggled to find a turn with Ivory, they took to the shade of the research vehicle which allowed me to examine their manes a little closer - which appear to have darkened substantially during my time away. The up-close photographs I was able to take during this time will help update the Lion ID Kits. 

There has still been no sign of the young male M102 (Madiba) or Eastern Pride lioness F105, (Sanyati) who is still suspected to have a litter somewhere, so the search continues!


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