Matusadona Lion Project - Week 12
May 17 2015

Winter is on its way here in Matusadona and as the cold snaps begin to increase, the bush is slowly beginning change.

On the 11th after the previous nights failed attempt to collar lioness F115, “Kanjedza” we returned to the area where remnants of bait had been left to find lioness F101, “Ivory”, enjoying the spoils to herself. Presumably Kanjedza had returned to where her litter of 3 were suspected to still be and eventually Ivory headed off with a full stomach in their direction. The air of disappointment surrounding the failed collaring attempt was however quickly lifted with the sighting of a young female leopard laying in the road - after 16 months of trying to sight a leopard, better late than never!

On the 12th loc stats from GPS satellite collars fitted on Tashinga Pride lioness F121, “Chura”, and Eastern Pride lioness F107, “Elizabeth”, indicated both prides were on Muuyu island on opposite sides. This is the first evidence of what I believe are 2 separate prides within such close vicinity of one another - was this in fact a sign of the 2 prides interacting as sub group? Was there a conflict underway? What of the 4 young male cubs in the Eastern Pride? I headed over there to find the prides had moved on in opposite directions with no sign of them ever meeting on the island.

That afternoon with the help of professional guide Mr Steve Chinhoyi of Rhino Safari Camp, the Eastern Pride were tracked on foot in the Mukadzapela region. As we made our way into the scrub a commotion was heard from a nearby hippo. Being very territorial the lakeshore areas can often be filled with the sound of battling hippo, however this particular animal sounded as though its altercation was not with one of his kind. 

Telemetry signal for Elizabeth increased as we made our way towards the grunts and moans - could it really be? We suddenly stopped as movement caught our eye. In amongst the mopane bushes was Elizabeth and a larger than life adult female hippo laying prone and exhausted. Elizabeth, panting heavily, held onto the hippo’s rear as she attempted to eat away at its hind quarters. The soft calls of other lions could be heard close by suggesting lionesses F105, “Sanyati” and F109, “Matusadona” were within the battleground area. Unfortunately Elizabeth was disturbed during her conquering effort and left the still alive hippo. Eventually as shock perhaps wore off it unsteadily rose to its feet and slowly made its way to the safety of the water.

Lions taking hippo is certainly not unheard of, and has been documented in Matusadona during previous studies, however this was none-the-less an exceptional sighting even despite a less than successful end. With pride member Sanyati having only recovered from a hippo bite recently I was very surprised to see the pride take on an adult hippo. Looking at spoor and blood after the scene had been vacated it looked as though the hippo had been sleeping in the bushes and was snuck up upon by the lions with Elizabeth leading the way in exhausting the animal and eventually overpowering.

By the 13th the Jenje Boys cohort had moved back onto the valley floor after a few days roaming in the hills. They settled in the middle of the floor for sometime up the far upper reaches of the Mukadzapela. By the 3rd day with little movement elsewhere I was beginning to suspect yet another elephant kill. With the help of professional guide and Spurwing Island Lodge GM Mitchel Riley, I was able to walk to the given loc stat and determined what was keeping the pride males attention. The bush, although feeling the cold, is still extremely thick and green in places making lion spotting all that more fun. Eventually we located a buffalo cow kill which given the enormous amount of buffalo activity we encountered on the way, wasn’t too surprising!

Camera traps have been checked across the valley floor this week and despite some damage inflicted by hyena to a few traps, the findings have overall been fantastic. The most interesting has been the amount of leopards documented. The young female spotted in the flesh earlier in the week was picked up on 2 traps around the Changechirere area, recognisable from a unique coat pattern and a noticeable tear in her left ear. It appeared she was joined by a possible male suitor one evening on an evening lakeshore stroll. With only one sighting of a leopard so far the use of camera traps is crucial in determining leopard presence, density and individual animals. Funding is needed for far more camera traps to adequately survey the area but a leopard database is surely but slowly forming thanks to stunning images like these.

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