The Buffalo Return to Matusadona
October 5 2014

Matusadona Lion Project

ALERT Principle Researcher Rae Kokes updates us on progress of the Matusadona Lion Project.

"Apologies for the silence from the Zambezi Valley. I recently returned from a trip to Harare where I was fortunate enough to give a talk for WEZ (Wildlife Environment of Zimbabwe) and stock up on provisions.

I’ve been receiving reports of sporadic lion sightings in the Changa area. It would appear the lions are beginning to roam back onto Fothergill Island now that the water is receding to a more comfortable, ankle-deep, level. 

The bush is beginning to morph and melt into the fantastic colours of the dry season - ochres, golds and browns interspersed with refreshing greens of the sprouting Panicum grass on the lakeshore. Although the vegetation is thinning and the temperatures rising, as the lake continues to fall it is revealing a lush belt of nutritious grass. And it is this growth that has caused the buffalo to finally make an appearance! 

I’ve had quite a few sightings of buffalo now and reports of lion chases in different areas. Many herd members are lacking in condition, no doubt due to the poor grazing further inland on the valley floor. It seems the herds are now localising on the lakeshore to bulk graze on the new grass shoots whilst they can. These shoots will eventually disappear as we continue into the dry season however, putting further strain on those more emaciated animals.  

On the 3rd of October GPS data for the Jenje Boys males M108, "Toulouse", and M110, “Mukadza”, suggested something was keeping their attention in the Kings Camp area. I headed that way in hopes of finding a kill. As I wound my way along the lakeshore a hooded vulture popped his little pink face up from a small ledge by the waters edge. I approached slowly so as not to startle any dinners and found a buffalo cow carcass strewn over the rocks in the shallows of the lake. It appeared she had been rumbled and trapped by the water, unable to escape. A large portion of the front leg and lower abdomen had been consumed and a large crocodile was making the most of the rump in the water.

After combing through the scrub nearby I soon located “Mukadza” and “Toulouse” looking extremely bloated. Telemetry signal also suggested Eastern Pride lioness F107, “Elizabeth”, was close by and possibly with other females. As the lions digested in the bushes the vultures began to swarm, but “Mukadza” was having none of this. The distended lion quickly launched himself at the hooded and white backed vultures before circling his soaking carcass and resting close by to keep guard. 

Matusadona Lion Project

I left the kill briefly to head back to camp to grab food and water - with temperatures reaching +35 degrees and still soaring, sitting in a car in the sun requires a lot of hydration! Yet by the time I returned “Mukadza” had vanished along with the carcass. There were no drag marks to be seen in the area indicating the crocodiles had decided to grab what they could, while they could. The carcass was eventually spotted bobbing in the water some 40m out. The rest of afternoon was then spent observing some very flatulent lions keeping cool in a nearby riverbed…


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