The heat is still rising here and no rain is in sight yet…
This week has mostly consisted of following the ‘Jenje Boys’ coalition of 3. Patterns are starting to emerge in their movements between the Kanjedza and Eastern Pride and despite often being fragmented the threesome are still socialising, keeping their combined dominance strong over the prides.
By the 11th the largest of the males M108, “Toulouse”, was still fraternising with the Eastern Pride lionesses. It would appear the females take a dint in hunting efforts when the males are present and refrain from pursuing prey. Lioness ‘F107, “Elizabeth”, was beginning to become more lean whilst pride member F109, “Matusadona” was maintaining a larger and more curved figure. During a stunning sunset the lioness bypassed the research vehicle very closely and allowed for a closer look at her abdomen and teats, and I suspect she may be pregnant. Some of you may remember “Matusadona” was the lioness with the litter of 3 back in April that sadly succumbed to the increasing water depths and/or crocodiles during an attempt to swim to Fothergill Island, following their mother. Here’s hoping with the current low water levels such swimming lessons won’t be trialled with her next litter.
On the 12th the lionesses managed to rid themselves of male “Toulouse”, losing him amongst the rocky outcrops close to Muuyu Island. “Matusadona” watched a wonderful sunrise on a small cliff face before leading her pride member further along the peninsula into perfect impala ambushing terrain. When I relocated the 2 females that afternoon it appeared I had just missed a successful kill.
On the 13th roaring could be heard from the Mukadzapela area of 2 lions, and I presumed “Toulouse” had met up with another lion. By the evening he was spotted walking onto Muuyu Island accompanied by coalition member M109, “Madoda”, who was last seen in the Kanjedza area on the other side of the Park. The 2 were heading directly towards where a fresh hippo carcass had been spotted in the shallows. However the males strolled past this bounty and simply continued on their circular tour of the island.
I headed back East the following morning following the spoor of the 2 males and the tracks indicated they had met with the 3rd coalition member M110, “Mukadza”. The lions eventually took to the bush and I decided to proceed to Fothergill Island where I had heard reports of lion spoor on the small runway there. As luck would have it I stumbled across Kanjedza Pride male M102, “Madiba” sleeping in the cool mud by the waters edge.
The young male has been on the island for some 4-5 days now, I believe in hiding from the frequently visiting ‘Jenje Boys’. Typically skittish whilst being alone it has been very difficult to approach the male however I managed to observe him for a few hours whilst parked on a far away sandbank with him non the wiser. His condition suggests he is taking down plenty of impala on the island and enjoying his father’s, M101 - “Shepherd”, old haunts.
Yesterday I had a fantastic sighting and discovery. After following the ‘Jenje Boys’ on the 14th, satellite GPS data from the collars of “Toulouse” and “Mukadza” showed the males had made a pit stop and were in no hurry to move off. More than often this indicates the lions are feeding. I headed out to the coordinate and found 2 very bloated and exhausted lions, flopped down by a small spring. A small scattering of Hooded vultures nearby in the scrub then led me to the feast - another elephant kill.
This is the 5th known elephant kill since the study began with 4 being the suspected work of the ‘Jenje Boys’. This kill however was the largest found to date. A sub adult elephant of possibly 9-10 yrs old. It did not appear to be in poor body condition and claw marks on the legs and back, alongside a great amount of destruction in surrounding vegetation, were evidence of a long struggle. Although certainly a large animal for 2 lions to take down, lions are often very tactful with such prey and their sheer power and relentlessness can result in an elephant becoming exhausted and overpowered.
Such findings provide vital data in understanding the ecology of the Matusadona lions but also better insight into the ecological value the valley floor and its prey has to offer these big cats. With elephant poaching levels rife in many wildlife areas a huge edible biomass is readily available for predators. Are the Matusadona lions relying on such meat? Will the possible preference for elephant as prey amongst the coalition males be shared by the lionesses? What impact could such increased predation have on the elephant population seasonally and as a whole?