I thought it best to send another blog despite having now left MNP. There has been some major developments in little under a week - some very exiting and very sad.
On the 4th I came across a dead hippo in the Sanyati West Bay area. The young male had suffered an almighty attack from his or another pod and a hole in the top of the skull showed a bite had ended his struggle. The carcass laid on the edge of the water and numerous crocodiles were beginning to attempt to open the body cavity. I had hoped the carcass would attract other predators and decided to wait.
During the 48hours spent by the increasingly foul smelling body there was little scavenging action. A large flock of vultures finally showed which was great to see after the vulture population appears to have taken a hit following the poisoning of poached animals in the area. Yet the soaring flock of c. 100 birds did not bring in any lions or hyenas.
By the second evening staying awake was a becoming a struggle and I nodded off. Then at 3am a booming roar in front of the vehicle shook me awake. It was the Jenje Boys and they slowly made their way around the bay and into the mopane scrub. Shortly after I head a short, violent, ruckus. The typical long, drawn out growls of what can normally be heard at a kill were absent and it sounded as though the boys were fighting with someone else.
I drove in circles until the sun came up and was unable to locate the coalition. As I then arrived in Kariba on my way to Harare I received a phone call to say I had in fact driven past the boys that morning and they were with a female mating! My frustrations very nearly led me back onto the boat but fortunately the group of friends I have made in Matusadona are helping me with reports and data whilst I am gone.
I have since learnt the largest of the Jenje Boys, ‘Toulouse’ and the smallest, ‘Jenje’ have mated with the lioness who is the new lioness recorded with the Kanjedza Pride.
Prior to this finding I had spent many days trying to track Shepherd again. On the 1st telemetry signal appeared to be weakly bouncing off the hills in the Changachirere area and even indicated he was perhaps across the water by Sanyati West but I found this hard to believe. I was still somewhat convinced the pride male had been ousted and was simply keeping a low profile in the surrounding area.
Yesterday I received a phone call from a professional hunter in a neighbouring hunting concession. During an early morning hunt an adult male lion was shot from behind. It turned out to be Shepherd.
Although not strictly illegal the shooting of collared animals is frowned upon in the hunting world, however Shepherds position in relation to the client meant the collar was not seen before it was very sadly too late. I was notified a few hours after the shooting and provided with all details regarding. It seems Shepherd was perhaps with a female and came into the area on around the 3rd, some 45kms from where I had last sighted him. His route will have taken him through the rather treacherous hills of the escarpment and across the very steep Sanyati Gorge.
This has been a huge blow for the study and me personally. I was finally getting to know this lion as an individual and the data he was providing the study was unprecedented. However this development in itself is also data. Shepherd was thought to be 9-10 years old, an age often accepted to be viable for shooting by professional hunters. Shepherd was suspected to have been a pride male for 5 years or possibly more, a very long tenure, and as I recently found out, over 2 prides. His genes have been, and still are, spread across the valley floor and his biological contribution to the Matusadona valley floor lion population has been phenomenal.
None the less, this really has been a very difficult reality of lion conservation to come to terms with. It is something I had thought may happen to a study animal, but I was not anticipating it happening so early in the study. His collar is being returned along with further morphological measurements and teeth for ageing. The clients have also offered to make a substantial donation to the Matusadona Lion Project.
There are many emotions and schools of thought that can be taken away from this, some easier to digest than others. What I would like to take away with me on my trip home is the contentment in knowing the Jenje Boys have now begun a new legacy in Matusadona, and that Shepherd’s legacy will continue to live on in his cubs - Madiba, Minnie, Nevanji, White Fang and possibly many more I am yet to meet, yet it is still heart breaking to know that the King of Matusadona is now gone.
Exceprt from the diary of Rae Kokes, Principle Researcher for ALERT's Matusadona Lion Project.