I hope you all had a great World Lion Day !
For those who don’t know the 10th of August was the second World Lion Day. It was a great success in its first year and this year we had National Geographic endorse it so word has spread even further. You can learn more here: www.worldlionday.com
I’ve had some pretty outstanding visuals this last week with a fantastic day on World Lion Day itself.
On the 3rd I left the Kanjedza Pride lionesses and cubs with their kudu kill and headed west towards the Mukadzapela River to locate males ‘Madoda', ‘Mukadza' and lionesses ‘Matusadona’. The smaller of the Jenje Boys coalition, ‘Mukadza’ has been covering some unbelievable ground this week. He has quite literally covered every corner of the Matusadona valley floor, often walking some c. 50kms in one evening. I believe this could perhaps be him looking for other females in the park as mating rights to the Kanjedza and Eastern Pride females are being exploited mostly by ‘Toulouse’, the larger of the threesome. However on the 3rd ‘Mukadza’ tried his best to demonstrate his dominance over ‘Matusadona’. It was quite apparent she was in heat and ‘Mukadza’ followed her every move, yet the problem was her every move was directed towards sleeping ‘Madoda’. The afternoon was quite a comedy spectacle and something in need of some ‘Carry On’ music as the lioness lay waiting for ‘Mukadza’ to drift off before attempting to trot to ‘Madoda’, only to then be chased by an insulted ‘Mukadza’ who in turn would startle ‘Madoda’. This went on for some time until we lost the lions to the darkness and the scrub. The reason for the lioness’s adamance over her mating with a specific male is a perfect example of sexual selection amongst lions. Females have been noted to have sexual preference towards those larger males with darker manes who are viewed as being the fitter individuals of the crop. However Madoda is still adorning a small, blonde mane very similar to ‘Mukadza’s’. There is a slight difference in build between the males with ‘Madoda’ being slightly larger but nothing overly significant. Was ‘Matusdona’ simply wishing to be obliging to all present males?
Whilst watching the lovers tango, impala had been heard alarm calling and we went to investigate and found the lone Matusadona female cheetah enjoying her fill of an impala ewe. Fortunately for her the nearby lions were far too engrossed to bother her over the kill and left her in peace.
On the 5th I received a report of 3 lionesses and 2 males feeding very sadly upon 2 recently poached elephants. After being out of the park attending a first aid course I headed straight to the carcasses on the 8th to follow up only to find vultures and a very upsetting scene. Examining the satellite data for the collared males it would appear both were at the carcasses around the 5th and as for the 3 lionesses I would guess these to be the Kanjedza Pride lionesses however the 3rd, ‘Marge’ I have not seen myself since May.
Finding no lions by the rotting elephants I tracked and picked up signal for lioness ‘Ivory’ a short distance away and obtained a visual of her and male ‘Toulouse’. We managed to return to them on foot in the afternoon with a pro guide from Changa Safari Camp. We froze in our tracks as we heard them mating some metres away and waited as they descended into a nearby riverbed that would hopefully offer us a better visual. It did, however it also offered ‘Ivory’ a visual of us. We began a game of statues; freezing as she looked in our direction. To date the Kanjedza Pride have been quite cryptic and skittish, especially so on foot. I have noticed a significant improvement in their behaviour towards vehicles, now relaxing whilst being approached. On foot is another matter and even at 60m ‘Ivory’ made her tension known, yet once our group of 3 sat quietly the lioness began to relax. She eventually moved off on her own accord to ‘Toulouse' for another mating bout before heading slowly and care-free into the scrub.
It is certainly not my intention to habituate any lions to any realm of ‘tameness’ however it is important that they become at least tolerant of people on foot to allow for guides and tourists to see them. Sadly Matusadona is no longer famed for its impressive animal sightings since the lion population declined so dramatically, and this can be seen in the relatively low number of visitors. Therefore it is only a benefit to the animals and the area if the lions can on occasion provide a few minutes of awe to some foreign visitors!
Heading to the Jenje River on the 9th I met up with the Eastern Pride girls skulking through the Coco bush along the lakeshore. Losing visual I returned to where I had previously tracked ‘Ivory’ and ‘Toulouse’ to see more mating. Most bouts were initiated by ‘Ivory’ and during a post-sex roll around I could see the lioness did not look to have been suckled any time recently. Although I have only had one visual of the cubs, I do not have much faith in their survival. It is highly unlikely the males would accept these cubs unless by some chance they are in fact related to them and this is not out of the question. Females will on occasion mate with nomadic males in the absence of their pride males and even with returning male siblings should they roam back to their natal pride territory. Lionesses have a variety of methods to avoid infanticide, yet one of these is simply abandonment which I believe may be taking place if the cubs are in fact still alive. This period of heightened sexual activity amongst the lions is perfectly normal after a pride take over, however the ‘newness’ of the males is what dictates when the females will begin to conceive. This could be some months after the take over, yet the delay is also dictated by the presence of cubs at the time of the take over. Only time will tell how these cubs fare.
Yesterday was one of the best days I’ve had since arriving some 17 weeks ago. At the moment the moon is in its full phase and during full moons I like to attempt a 24-48hr session with the lions. This, however, is proving to be extremely difficult with the thick vegetation and what seems strategically placed sharp tree stumps. I managed to log 18-19hrs yesterday with lionesses ‘Kanjedza’, ‘Ivory’ and males ‘Toulouse’ and ‘Mukudza’. ‘Ivory’ and ‘Toulouse’ spent most of the day setting an example to the other couple, and despite ‘Kanjedza’s’ willingness ‘Mukadza’ was quite cautious of engaging as ‘Toulouse’ kept a watchful eye on his movements. Soon evening fell and the dazzling, cream-coated moon rose, bathing the lions in silver along the lakeshore. At one point ‘Kanjedza’ came and sat beside the car window; her outline glinting against the white powdery sand around her. These 10 minutes of pure natural beauty in front of me could not have been a more perfect way to end World Lion Day.