Return of African Wild Dogs to Matusadona National Park
December 23 2015

I imagine everyone is gearing up for the festive season now, and the same can be said here in Matusadona.  The last week has been spent ‘closing-up shop’, as it were, before the 2015 field season ends and I head back to a colder climate in Yorkshire for Christmas with my family.

After spending a few days in the bright lights of Harare city to renew permits for the 2016 field season, I returned to the Valley to find a report of the Kanjedza Pride females feeding at an elephant carcass along the Jenje River.  Based on coordinates downloaded from the satellite GPS collar fitted on lioness F101, “Ivory”, it would seem the females happened upon the juvenile after it had died from natural causes.  This free meal has hopefully seen an improvement in the body condition of cub F123, “Masibanda” and her brother M118, “Siwela”, if he is still present with the pride.  A brief visual of the pride on the morning of the 10th was absent of any cubs however.

On the 11th camera traps were checked across the Valley floor and fitted with new cases.  Numerous traps have unfortunately become chew-toys for resident hyenas and objects of great interest for elephants since the onset of the study, and many have been lost and/or damaged.  Therefore, with huge thanks to Carl Wright, camera trap cases were specially made for the project to house cameras safely away from marauding animals!  As always, it is thrilling when checking cameras after long periods in suspense of what has wandered by.  This time the completely unexpected was discovered.

A trap placed along the base escarpment road, which is very little accessed, often reveals large numbers of hyena, and a variety of plains species from buffalo, kudu to zebra, and more.  A stunning and very large male leopard was caught crossing the riverbed much to my delight, meanwhile two other photos showed the hind quarter and tail and an animal moving at speed.  The paw was certainly that of a canid, yet the height and brilliant white tail suggested it was too large to be a jackal.  A second camera trap was reviewed at Dumba Pan, and in amongst the baboon, impala and elephant were two beautiful adult wild dogs! 

This is an outstanding finding for the study.  There have been no confirmed reports of wild dog in over a decade in Matusadona National Park following a reintroduction in the 1990’s that saw many dogs die sadly.  African wild dogs, also known as Painted dogs, or Hunting dogs, are Africa’s most endangered large carnivore.  There are only an estimated 6,600 left on the continent, and only some 600 in Zimbabwe.  Wild dogs are extremely susceptible to habitat loss/fragmentation, prey depletion and conflict with people.  Despite being an extremely beautiful and enigmatic species they have been persecuted as pests for decades.  To confirm the presence of them here is a brilliant sign of the potential Matusadona NP may have as a protected area for the species.  Photos have been sent to researchers of the African Wildlife Conservation Fund to cross-check with an ID database for the species.

Following this incredible discovery I continued on to locate male lions M108, “Toulouse,” and M110, “Mukadza”, making their way to the Jenje River. Their route through the broad-leaf grass scrub was anticipated and intercepted, and luckily the males appeared by the research vehicle as night fell and just in time to catch an impala lamb resting nearby.  Mukadza quickly took off with the meagre meal leaving his counterpart pacing around for any other unguarded juveniles.  After a 10 minute snack Mukadza re-joined Toulouse and the twosome disappeared into the evening.

On the 12th the Eastern Pride were stumbled upon along the Black Rhino Loop road. I had been attempting to gain a visual to ensure all cubs were still present before I left.  All four little males were accounted for, looking larger and stronger than ever.

The past few days could not have been a better way to end this field season.  It has been another incredible year.  Prides appear to be thriving, and most cubs are doing well.  The lakeshore is seeing new life come about, and plains species are on the rise.  Although some planned research efforts were sadly not completed this year, it simply means that 2016 will be busier and filled with more adventure!  A huge thank you to everyone for simply reading the blogs, passing on support and of course for supporting the project through donations.  We are attempting to collar more lions this year and as always are in desperate need of funding for fuel to keep going.  

Merry Christmas!

Rae

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.

Sponsor a Lion

To help the MLP continue and expand, you are invited to sponsor a study lion to help us cover project costs. Your monthly contribution will help ensure the study reaches its full potential to understand, and ultimately assist in, conserving the Matusadona area and its resident lion population.  With your sponsorship you will receive monthly updates direct from our Principal Researcher about your sponsored study lion including photographs and reports on the project's progress.

Visit our website for details.

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