Shepherding more than one pride
May 18 2014

After collaring two lions last week (the female ‘Go-Go’ and the pride male ‘Shepherd’), I have been following them closely to begin collecting more data about their daily movements, habits and groupings. On the 11th, just 1 day after collaring Shepherd, I made a wonderful discovery...

Up until this week I had speculated as to whether Shepherd was in fact covering two prides in the area; the Eastern and Kanjedza Prides. I have only ever observed the old male with the Eastern Pride and its 6-7 females and sub adults, and was yet to see any evidence of him with the Kanjedza Pride. However the fact that this smaller, more elusive pride have a fairly extensive overlap with the Eastern Pride’s territory, and with Shepherd seeming to be the only adult male in the area, it seemed plausible he would court with the pride’s 2 females.  

On the evening of the 11th, having located Shepherd patrolling the shoreline earlier, I went to locate him again. Signal indicated he had moved West to the ‘Coco Bush Corner’ area, and with a spotlight I soon found him sleeping peacefully on his enormous paws. I panned around him to see what else may be within his vicinity and located a second lion also slumbering away, chin nestled between their forepaws. Having found Shepherd with the Eastern Pride lioness ‘Matusadona’ the previous evening I instantly presumed it was her and took notes. ‘Matusadona’ then rose her head which suddenly appeared much larger and more hairy than normal…It was a young male.  As I quickly scribbled out my notes the 2 boys began a wonderful roaring chorus together. They made it quite apparent they were familiar with one another as they revelled in long, vocal head rubs.  The only other sub adult male I knew of was Madiba, yet the location and behaviour of this young male made me question as to whether it was a new lion I had not yet seen. The spotlight made identification difficult and of course my camera had been left in camp! Putting frustrations aside I decided to just enjoy the spectacle and followed the duo a short distance before they disappeared into the Coco bush. 

On the 12th I picked up signal again for Shepherd back East along the shoreline. I could hear him roaring with another lion in the scrub so decided to wait for him to emerge. Finally a lion was spotted in my rear view mirror, but a lioness - it was Ivory. And she was shortly followed by Shepherd and Madiba. I was able to identify the young male much easier in the daylight as the trio passed close by to vehicle. This was my first sighting of any Kanjedza Pride members with Shepherd and also the furthest East I have seen the pride, demonstrating an even larger territory overlap with the Eastern Pride than I had previously suspected. 

Ivory was still looking pregnant, with a noticeably swollen stomach however Shepherd was following her very closely. Between brief sniffs of the lioness Shepherd melted into a very affectionate lion with his older son as the 2 playfully ran alongside one another and continuously called softly to perhaps indicate their enjoyment of one another’s company. Madiba occasionally held back allowing his father to walk ahead and gazed after him as his mere strides sent an elephant scurrying off into the bush. 

Matusadona Lion Project

Matusadona Lion Project

On the 13th I lost the pride heading into the hills where only a single road can be found. I’ve not been able to pick up any signal since, however tracks and roaring have been heard along the Kanjedza river bed and I anticipate Shepherd may spend some more time with his smaller pride.

Being able to confirm Shepherds rule over the Kanjedza Pride is very exciting. The majority of literature regarding lion social structure often states that males oversee single prides however more recent studies have shown evidence of ‘extra group paternity’, whereby adult males will oversee numerous prides and sire offspring to females of different prides. It is far too early to state whether this is true for the Matusadona lion population, but could be an interesting finding once more data is collected. 

Having spent time with Shepherd I then headed out to try and spend 24-48hrs with ‘Go-Go’ and the Eastern Pride. Having received a report of a lioness with a ‘new necklace’ at Rhino Safari Camp, I headed that way. On the 14th I located her alongside females F105, F107, F114 and the young sub adult male M103, ‘Nevanji’. The young male was particularly enjoying the remains of an impala kill before heading off to the end of the Mucheni peninsula following the lionesses.

Matusadona Lion Project

I attempted to relocate them on the 15th, however the road was impassable. I decided to wait and hoped the group would head back my way. My telemetry signal for Go-Go suggested she was moving so maybe I was in luck, however the signal strength was not wavering. This movement continued from 7am to 10am, but still no suggestion of movement in or out of the area itself. Was this movement therefore because she was feeding? I soon got distracted by some white-headed vultures battling with a fish eagle over a bream and whilst doing so found a small passage down to the peninsula where the lions were. Once on the track I raced around to where the signal indicated Go-Go was and found 3 lionesses taking a drink from the lapping waves. F114, ‘Ngoda’, headed into the thick Jesse bush and there I found another great discovery - a crocodile kill!  The croc was only c. 1m in length however the continuing movement signal from earlier must have meant it put up a serious fight with the group of 5. Ngoda picked up the remains showing the head had been left untouched but all meat from underneath the rough hide of its back had been consumed. I had heard many stories of the lion taking crocodile here but this is my first confirmation of them preying upon these plentiful reptiles. Despite not being quick enough to take a photo to keep as a record and to share this is another great discovery for the study.

Matusadona Lion Project

Exceprts from the diary of Rae Kokes, Principle Researcher for ALERT's Matusadona Lion Project.

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