Matusadona Lion Project: Week 29 & 30
October 21 2015

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

Sadly, sightings of the Kanjedza Pride are still indicating the female cub F123, “Masibanda”, has died along with the litter of F101, “Ivory”. The pride of now three have been observed frequenting the Changachirere area and making a few appearances on Spurwing Island. The threesome offered a fantastic morning visual on the 9th for Spurwing Island Lodge guests as they ambushed a herd of waterbuck into the water and straight into the firing line of waiting crocodiles. The threesome have also been tracked onto Fothergill Island recently, movements never noted before for this pride. A wonderful herd of c. 164 buffalo are also taking refuge on Fothergill currently, however the lions do not appear to be making any concerted effort to hunt them. This is not surprising as such a large herd and the presence of the remaining one cub, M118, “Siwela”, with the two pride females may mean such hunting efforts are simply too risky. Therefore the lionesses have been attempting to ambush herds of impala along the lakeshore, but the lean condition of F115, “Kanjedza”, suggests hunting success has been slim.

MLP 1

On the 9th I received a report that M111, one of the two young nomadic males from the Tashinga Pride, last sighted in the Bumi Hills area, had been sighted by Musango Safari Camp staff with a snare wound on his hind quarter. His last location was attended to and efforts were made to track and lure the male in an attempt to dart and assess the wound. Photographs obtained show the snare is likely to have broken off, though it has left some damage to the lion. Unfortunately to date we have not been successful in locating the male, however movements assessed from spoor suggest the male is more than capable of walking with ease, and the remains of three crocodile kills in the area indicate he is certainly still able to sustain himself. With the help of Musango Safari Camp, Bumi Hills Safari Lodge, Bumi Hills Anti-Poaching Unit (click here to sponsor BHAPU) and Nyaminyami Rural District Council the male will hopefully be located soon and, if necessary, M111 will be treated for any serious wounds. A huge thank you to Mr Andries Scholtz for assisting with the report also.

MLP 3

During tracking efforts in the Bumi Hills area two young lionesses were located ambushing impala along the lakeshore. It is thought these are two resident lions that have been sighted with the Tashinga Pride cohort, but also a large adult male who has recently moved into the area fondly known as ‘“Wesley”. He and another adult male, c. 4 years old, have been noted in the area making sporadic appearances along the Ume River and lakeshore. Will they perhaps be the first known challengers for the Jenje Boys cohort of Matusadona?

Later in the week reports were received of lions killing goats in the Chalala area, the first report of this kind from this village. Visits were made to kraals where goats had escaped and been preyed upon, and where lions had been loitering close to homesteads. Recommendations were made to improve kraal strength to prevent livestock escaping and how to also scare off lions in close proximity. The simple tactic of making loud noise can be very effective with naturally nervous lions. Research has shown wild lions within the vicinity of people are often highly stressed and can therefore sometimes be chased away effectively. Noise makers were made from discarded soft drink cans and residents were advised to use pots and pan to create a loud din, along with lighting fires. A few nights were spent trying to track the perpetrating lions and monitor their movements but to no avail. Fortunately however it would seem the advice of noise making has worked and spoor for the lions was noted leaving this area this morning, back towards the Bumi Hills area.

MLP 4

The Bumi Hills area is somewhat encompassed by human settlements of the Mola area, Masampa fishing village and Chalala. This has put substantial pressure on the wildlife. There is suspicion that the expanding lakeshore may be contributing to lion/livestock issues. As this habitat type expands, yet prey densities remain the same, encounter rates and catch success may be diminishing for resident lions, therefore moving into areas to prey on livestock some 1-2km away is no doubt tempting. Only working closely with communities can such incidents of conflict be mitigated successfully. To highlight this issue further was the retrieval of a lioness skin by the Bumi Hills Anti-Poaching Unit. It appeared the lioness died in a snare and was later skinned. Lion meat is quite sought after amongst communities for cultural and medicinal purposes alongside a growing trade in lion bones. This, coupled with livestock losses, puts the lion in great jeopardy. Work is being undertaken with organisations such as Zimbabwe Parks & Wildlife Management Authority, BHAPU and Nyaminyami RDC to overcome these obstacles.

MLP 2

Between these sad tones however was a great visual of the rarely sighted Tashinga Pride. The four pride lionesses were located in the Maronga campsite area - a stunning, hidden gem along the Ume River’s banks. All the females were in wonderful condition and location stats from pride female F121’s, “Chura”, satellite GPS collar indicate the pride have been fully utilising the thick vegetation along the river for ambushing waterbuck, impala, bushbuck and more. Females F120, “Amai”, and F122, “Muchenyi”, were also showing signs of pregnancy which, given the recent losses for the Kanjedza Pride, is very welcome news for the valley floor population.

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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