Relief as new collars are finally fitted on Matusadona males
August 15 2016

The biggest achievement of recent has been the re-collaring of M108, ‘Toulouse’ and M110, ‘Mukadza’.  I was joined by ALERT’s, CEO Dr Norman Monks, in a dedicated effort to locate the concerned males.  Fortunately, cohort member M109’s, ‘Madoda’, satellite GPS collar is still functioning and has allowed us to track the other two males when they are roaming together.  The threesome appear to have been moving together as a single unit more often this year, whilst also ranging beyond the valley floor and park boundaries more frequently.

At dawn of the 23rd of July, we proceeded to the Sekata Valley area of the park in the escarpment region. Here the males were loitering on top of the 800-metre-high ridge forming the eastern side of the valley.  Our broadcasts of a buffalo calf in distress lured the males down a steep elephant path, however none of them came to a bait we had provided.  As the heat began to rise by 9am, we ceased our calling efforts and took refuge in the shade along the banks of the Vulanduli river. Here we soon spotted vultures circling above the eastern ridge of the valley where the males had presumably been.

Our escorting PWMA ranger assisted us with heading towards the last GPS location of Madoda on the ridge and towards the now increasing flock of vultures.  Whilst manoeuvring the rocky cliff face, we ascended the ridge and proceeded along game trails to eventually pick up lion spoor.  It was soon becoming apparent what lay ahead.  Amongst some sparse miombo woodland lay a young tuskless elephant cow that had - like 21 known elephants before - fallen prey to the Jenje Boys cohort.  This was an incredible finding, as only a mere three days prior, the males had made an elephant kill in the valley floor area of the park.  This also is the first known kill in this area of the park where elephant density is generally much lower than in the valley floor.  Dr Monks joined us whilst assessing the carcass and made an interesting observation of the kill site - the terrain. The surroundings were slightly sloped, as were those of the previous elephant kill.  Has this in fact been a variable oversight?  It is probable hunts have a higher success rate in areas of uneven terrain, and elephants are most certainly not at their most stable on inclines and declines.  Are the males selecting areas of such terrain for elephant hunting?  Kill sites are to be revisited and specific data regarding gathered to provide further insight.

After gathering necessary information from the carcass, and as dusk approached, we began to call again at our bait and after many cold hours of waiting the males finally came the feed, allowing us to successfully dart Mukadza and fit him with a new satellite GPS collar.

48 hours later, the males were still in the escarpment area and we proceeded late afternoon along the stunning repeater road to their last-known location from early morning.  Whilst placing bait up, we were surprised to find the males were still precisely where they had been at 6:30am and, after moving off with a few disgruntled growls, watched us from a distance.  As darkness fell, the males came in again to feed and, with great relief, Toulouse was also successfully darted and fitted with a new collar.

The males have grown an enormous amount since they were first fitted with collars and are estimated to be around 210 to 230 kilograms.  Although they are resident pride males, they continue to spend very little time with the pride females and hunt almost entirely for themselves.  This consequently means they are maintaining an impressive condition and may do so for some time, making them a formidable cohort to contend with for other possible incoming males.

After the incredible relief of finally fitting the collars, work has once again focused on the resident prides.  A cluster of GPS locations for Eastern Pride lioness F107, ‘Elizabeth’ led me to a fascinating find.  Along the banks of the Bhizi river, within an area of uneven terrain, an elephant kill was located.  It would appear the pride of eight had taken the young male in the absence of the pride males -  the first time this study has ever noted any elephant predation by the populations’ females.  Is this hunting ability perhaps coming to light now the pride has the support of the ever-growing four sub-adult males?  Although they are still less than two years old, they are likely to provide much needed force in tackling larger prey, and perhaps just enough to make such hunts successful.  This may of course may also be coincidental and the concerned elephant may have been injured and/or significantly sick.  Only time will tell if the elephant predation habits of the Jenje Boys have finally begun to rub off on the pride females.

An enormous thank you must be given to the following for assisting with collaring efforts:

  •  African Conservancies
  • Safrique Safaris
  • Nyaminyami Rural District Council
  • PWMA
  • Changa Safari Camp
  • Avoca
  • Pandenga

About the Matusadona Lion Project (MLP)

Since its commencement in 2014, the MLP, in partnership with the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority, aims to determine the population status and ecology of lions in Zimbabwe’s Matusadona National Park. The last census in 2005 suggested that just 28 individuals remained, down from nearly 90 in 1998, raising concerns over the population’s long-term viability.  The MLP is collecting data on individual lions, pride structure and distribution, as well trying to understand the environmental and human-induced pressures facing Matusadona’s lions.  This project directly contributes to the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority’s conservation and management plans for this apex predator.

Support the Matusadona Lion Project

MLP is looking for funding to cover the running costs of the project (such as vehicle repair and fuel) as well as to acquire additional equipment (camera traps and tracking collars) to increase the amount of data being collected.  If you are able to help please make a donation here, or contact info@lionalert.org for alternative support options.

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