Matusadona Lion Project: Week Twenty-One
August 24 2015

This blog is the ongoing diary of Matusadona Lion Project (MLP) Principal Researcher, Rae Kokes:

A large amount of ground has been covered over the past two weeks, with time being spent in more remote areas of Matusadona National Park (MNP), surrounding CAMPFIRE areas, and also in the air.

On the 5th of August the project took to the sky with the help of pilot Colin Horseley of Kariba, with an aerial survey of the entire Park. I was joined by MNP ecologist Mr Mudungwe during the exercise and Mitchell Riley, general manager of Spurwing Island Lodge.  The survey took place over 2 days with 7 hours flying time and was split into 3 counts; the lakeshore, the valley floor and escarpment and the escarpment to the southern boundary.

Matusadona 1

A large amount of data was gathered during the survey that has provided invaluable insight into lion prey availability throughout the park; information crucial for the Zimbabwe Parks & Wildlife Management Authority (ZPWMA), and MLP.  MLP would like to send its sincerest gratitude to Mr Horseley for generously supplying his plane, at no charge, and to Spurwing Island Lodge for contributing towards fuel costs.

On the 7th an exciting report was received from a moored houseboat of a lioness taking down a young waterbuck on the lakeshore area of the Kanjedza River. I headed there to find Kanjedza Pride lioness “F101” feeding on a freshly killed juvenile waterbuck. The amount consumed since the reported hunt suggested Ivory had not fed alone, but there was no sign of pride member F115, “Kanjedza”.  Whilst Kanjedza presumably went to fetch her litter of two young cubs, Ivory dragged the carcass into the nearby coco bushes to feed in the shade.  She was eventually joined by Kanjedza and her cubs, though was reluctant to share the spoils with them.  By the following morning the carcass had been fully utilised and the small pride slept off their full stomachs in the Kanjedza riverbed.

Matusadona 2

On the 10th whilst en route to Tashinga, a surprise sighting was obtained of Tashinga Pride lioness F119, “Amai”, and pride male M110, “Mukadza”, mating by the roadside. Both showed extended stomachs and were presumed to have fed from another waterbuck kill, this time an adult male, discovered by a fly camp staying in the Chura River of Rhino Safari Camp.  The ‘Jenje Boys’ cohort are remaining in the vicinity of the Tashinga Pride, presumably in hopes of mating opportunities given the lack of chances in the Kanjedza and Eastern Prides now due to the presence of young cubs.

During another outing in the Tashinga area I happened upon four hyena on the Black Rhino Loop road. As with every sighting obtained of hyena during the day I expected the group to flee from the approaching vehicle, however once stopped with the engine off the foursome continued to mill around in the surrounding scrub.  Much to my surprise two large females approached the vehicle to within c. 20m and it became apparent a scent in the area had caught their attention, dispelling any caution towards my presence. I remained with the group for approximately 20-30 minutes and noted the largest female was heavily lactating. Was there a den nearby? Was there also a carcass? Despite my best efforts from the vehicle I was unable to locate any carcass or cause for their adamant curiosity in the area and eventually lost visual to the scrub.

The project is working in conjunction with ZPWMA and more specifically with their local ecologist, Mr. Mudungwe, who is undertaking investigations of human-carnivore conflict issues in the surrounding communal lands of the Nyaminyani district.  The district is one of the least developed in Zimbabwe with poor agricultural potential and is heavily dependent on wildlife as an economic resource, therefore addressing issue of wildlife conflict is of the utmost importance.

Matusadona 3

On the 12th Mr Mudungwe, a ZPWMA attachment student, and myself headed to the southern boundary of the Park and into the communal lands to begin survey work. There have been incidents of human-lion conflict in the area as recent as June resulting in lethal control of ‘problem animals’. With concerns regarding a non-viable lion population in the area it is crucial such incidents are mitigated as thoroughly as possible. This requires the support of the Rural District Council, local safari operators, and most importantly community members. The level of Problem Animal Control (PAC) as well as off take within the hunting areas were discussed at a district level quota setting meeting on the 14th and concerns regarding conflict and lethal control were raised amongst all present.

On the 18th, after a week of visiting stakeholders and gathering information, a workshop was held to discuss the issue of PAC in the concerning wards and how collectively these incidents can be prevented. In the Nebiri region bordering the south-western boundary of the Park lions have constituted 31% of PAC reports, second only to elephant (46%), however the nature of PAC has varied. Discussions were held throughout the day regarding the nature of PAC, PAC reporting, response to PAC, mitigation methods and most importantly the benefits of wildlife, or lack of, to communities. It was decided a PAC committee be implemented to assist with incident reporting, response and assessment, and for further workshops to be held in all other wards of the Nyaminyami district. It is hoped with regular visits and meetings the issue of PAC can be addressed adequately, resulting in improvements to the crucial relationship between wildlife, wildlife areas and communities.

In between visiting communities and stakeholders I spent time exploring the bordering consumptive areas and southern boundary of MNP more thoroughly. It is believed there are two resident lionesses, one possibly with young cubs, a sub-adult male and an adult male in the area. Spoor and roaring bouts were followed as and when found and heard but no sightings were obtained. The area has lost a young lioness to PAC and an adult male to trophy hunting this year so far, therefore it is hoped this small, possible single group will remain together and not suffer any further losses. As well as providing information on lion whereabouts, I was kindly given stills and footage of lion in the area by employees of Safrique Safari’s. Photos of the sub-adult male taken from a camera trap during a hunt were scrutinised intensely in hopes of identifying the AWOL Kanjedza Pride male M102, “Madibda”, however whisker spot patterns could not be determined from the image.

ALERT and the MLP would like to thank ZPWMA, Nyaminyami RDC, Bumi Hills Anti-Poaching Unit, Matusadona Anti-Poaching Project, Carbon Green, Chief Nebiri and Chief Negande for their wonderful assistance and enthusiasm with work during the past week. The project would also like to send its sincerest thanks to Safrique Safari’s for providing free food and accommodation during this trip and assisting with lion presence information in the surrounding consumptive area.

About the Matusadona Lion Project (MLP)

Since its commencement in 2014, the MLP, in partnership with the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority, aims to determine the population status and ecology of lions in Zimbabwe’s Matusadona National Park. The last census in 2005 suggested that just 28 individuals remained, down from nearly 90 in 1998, raising concerns over the population’s long-term viability.  The MLP is collecting data on individual lions, pride structure and distribution, as well trying to understand the environmental and human-induced pressures facing Matusadona’s lions.  This project directly contributes to the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority’s conservation and management plans for this apex predator. 

Support the Matusadona Lion Project

MLP is looking for funding to cover the running costs of the project (such as vehicle repair and fuel) as well as to acquire additional equipment (camera traps and tracking collars) to increase the amount of data being collected.  If you are able to help please make a donation here, or contact info@lionalert.org for alternative support options.

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