This blog is the ongoing diary of Matusadona Lion Project Principal Researcher, Rae Kokes:
Summer has very much arrived full throttle here in the Zambezi Valley, and along with it, bush fires. Large areas of the Matusadona National Park escarpment have burnt since the attempted call-up survey last month, and flames have even spread into the valley floor - the first fire in the area in the last 15 years or so. The fires were eventually brought under control by Zimbabwe Parks & Wildlife Management Authority personnel, but despite causing some minor chaos, such fires can do wonders for the vegetation. Already, lush green shoots are appearing in clusters amongst the charcoaled mopane trees and blackened earth mounds, providing grazing for a variety of species. How this burning may affect lion movement is being monitored, however, the burnt areas do not appear to be within known core territory areas.
On the morning of the 22nd of September I chanced upon a surprise sighting of the Eastern Pride in the company of 'Jenje Boys’ male M108, “Toulouse”. Toulouse hasn’t been sighted since July after spending long periods with the Tashinga Pride around the inaccessible Shenga and Chura River areas. By this point lioness F107, “Elizabeth” had still shown no further signs of tending to any cubs and close proximity between her and Toulouse suggested that the pair were perhaps courting. By the afternoon mating bouts began between the two, somewhat confirming that Elizabeth has in fact lost her cubs. Cub mortality is not uncommon amongst lions and can be quite high within certain populations; it is an important area of pride ecology this study is focusing on. Cubs are susceptible to predation, starvation and even neglectful maternal care. It may also be that the female is inviting courting with males still relatively new to the area to establish bonds.
The Eastern Pride have been spending longer periods in the Eastern areas of their known territory, particularly in the Gordon’s Bay area, which with the now sprawling lakeshore, is far more accessible. The four male cubs of the pride are estimated to be c. 9 months and ID kits are being created for each cub; therefore recent visuals along the foreshore have provided great opportunities for gathering whisker spot photographs.
The on the 23rd the Kanjedza Pride were located with a sub-adult kudu kill in the Bhari river area. It seemed I had only just missed the action within the spring line and sandy vlei. Both cubs to lioness F115, “Kanjedza”, were present and in fantastic condition, and it is hoped lioness F101, “Ivory”, will soon bring her cub/s to such kills, as it has been c. 6 weeks since she is thought to have denned down. However, by the 2nd of October the female cub F123, “Masibanda”, was nowhere to be found and spoor for the pride over the days prior indicated only one cub was moving with the two lionesses. The pride were found in the ivory vlei area appearing somewhat uneasy. The lionesses, with no warning, ran off into the bushes leaving the little male cub M118, “Siwela” on his lonesome. The young male began to search for the lionesses, calling into the evening air and pacing along the road which was strewn with hyena spoor. The threesome eventually regrouped after dark but with no sign still of little Masibanda. Has the young female fallen to hyena predation? Or simply been left behind somewhere?
Also on the 2nd, after months of attempting to locate them, I finally obtained a visual of all 3 members of the “Jenje Boys” cohort. M109, “Madoda” was located alone wandering the Gordon’s Bay area to join with his counterparts up at the Bhari Spring. By the 4th the threesome were noted to be loitering inland and my suspicions grew. A track was found to their location and once again an elephant kill located. This time a juvenile animal less than 1 year old. Predation on such young animals, that are often ferociously protected by cows within a maternal herd, is rare and this is only the second animal under 3 years old recorded of the 16 suspected elephant kills since the onset of the study.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org for alternative support options.