Principle Researcher, Rae Kokes, received a couple of big surprises recently, thanks to the Big Cats of Matus. Here is her latest update from the Matusadona Lion Project:
Having finally moved off the elephant carcass in the False Kanjedza river the Kanjedza Pride headed north west and managed to find themselves another 2 elephants to scavenge off. Fortunately one carcass was just accessible for the research vehicle up the Gordons Bay spring. On arrival I was met by Jenje Boys member M109, ‘Madoda’, tucking into the already opened abdominal cavity. By night fall he was joined by his coalition member M108, ‘Toulouse’. It is becoming very clear that ‘Toulouse’ is the more dominant male of the group of 3, as is evident by the behaviour of the other 2. Quite often his presence is seeing the 2 smaller males move off and give way to his feeding and matings rights.
Later in the evening ‘Toulouse’ was quickly side-tracked from feeding by the soft calls of a nearby lion. He quickly rose to his paws and disappeared into the spring to investigate.
By the following morning ‘Toulouse’ had returned alongside ‘Madoda’, the 3rd male, M110, ‘Mukadza’, and a lioness. At first glimpse the lioness, who was being covered by ‘Toulouse’, looked to be Kanjedza Pride lioness ‘Kanjedza’. She finally rose, shadowed by ‘Toulouse’ and after a splendid gaze in my direction I realised this was a new lion!
She and ‘Toulouse’ spent the day mating however remained in the vicinity of the carcass allowing me to gather some much needed ID shots. It is vital whisker spot patterns are recorded for new study animals as these are unique to each and every lion, however this lioness was also sporting was appeared to be an injured eye. A milky, silver patch was covering the central part of the cornea perhaps inflicted by a scratch or even snake venom. Her pupil appeared perfectly fine and her sight certainly unhindered as she weaved in and out of mopane bushes luring her admirer in circles. This courting continued for the rest of the day and into the 27th.
So who is this new lioness? My first guess would be a Kanjedza Pride lioness. This pride appear quite fragmented therefore it is still likely I’ve yet to locate and identify all members, and I don’t believe another nomadic female, or alien pride member would be moving through the area with the other lionesses so close by.
Having lost visual of the new lioness I headed to the Kanjedza river where I had left a camera trap. I had tracked spoor for the Kanjedza Pride’s young male, M102, ‘Madiba’, on the 25th possibly following his female pride members and keeping a distance from the new males. I reviewed the footage back at camp and despite not finding any shots of ‘Madiba’ another very handsome chap had been kind enough to pass by. A huge male leopard had sauntered his way to the flowing stream in the river bed for a cool morning drink, pausing to listen to the passing Meyers parrots and continued on his way. This is my first glimpse of the Matusadona leopard population. Part of the study is to investigate those populations of other large predators in the area however locating and monitoring leopards is EXTREMELY difficult given their elusive nature. The overall leopard population of Zimbabwe is little known for this reason, however there are concerns regarding their conservation with continuing pressures from habitat loss and trophy hunting quotas. I have recently been granted a further 4 camera traps which means I can deploy one permanently at the Kanjedza river in hopes of monitoring this tom cat further. Camera traps are massively beneficial for the field work being undertaken here, and it is hoped the project will eventually receive further funding for more in the future.
I also stumbled across the elusive buffalo this week. A herd of c. 90 rambled through the Changachirere area before making their way to Muuyu Island where Rhino Safari Camp is situated. Having still had little sightings of the Eastern Pride, who were still loitering in the West, I headed that way for a few days in hopes of seeing 2 of the Big 5 clash. From the 27th-31st the buffalo mingled in thick Jesse bush evading any curious lions, although the only lions in the area were again more interested in mating. I found ‘Toulouse’ on the 30th having finally left the Kanjedza Pride and now stalking Eastern Pride lioness F114, ‘Ngoda’. The 2 peacefully soaked up the morning rays when ‘Ngoda’ suddenly diverted her attention to 3 trotting warthogs. The pigs, blissfully aware, bounced through the open scrub with the leader striding directly into the lions mouth! ‘Ngoda’ pressed every inch of her golden body into the ground, her coat melting into the tangerine orange sand. Closer and closer the warthog walked reaching to within 10m when it paused. Its little snout grasped the air. It spotted the crouched lioness. The trio sprinted away and just when appearing quite impressed with their vigilance they stumbled right onto ‘Toulouse’, sending them again sprinting, this time much further away.