Matusadona Lion Project – Week 18
This blog is the on-going diary of Matusadona Lion Project Principal Researcher, Rae Kokes:
After numerous attempts since April I can happily report we have finally (re)collared lioness F101, ‘Ivory’, of the Kanjedza pride with a satellite GPS collar.
I was joined by ALERT’s CEO, Dr Norman Monks, on the 14th of July and headed to Ivory’s last known location in the Kemurara 2 River area. A call-up station was set up with bait to lure Ivory and the rest of the small Kanjedza Pride to the site; however as luck would have it, the curiosity of the pride’s two newest members meant no calling was necessary. Before nightfall the two small cubs of lioness F115, ‘Kanjedza’, F123 and M118, plodded out into the riverbed curious of the happenings around the research vehicle. We waited in silence hoping their confidence would be followed by that of Ivory and mother Kanjedza. Eventually the foursome made their way to where the bait had been laid, bypassing an approaching elephant herd.
The cubs are estimated to be c. 4 months old and are at a very curious/bold age. Whilst in the safety of the pride they may venture further afield to investigate new sounds, smells and surroundings. As Dr Monk’s prepared a sedative to be administered to Ivory the cubs crept closer to the nearby bait. The scent was soon picked up by the lionesses and they began to feed, snapping and growling at one another. This commotion was not well met by the nearby elephant herd who suddenly came charging and trumpeting at the feeding lions. The pride scattered much to our disappointment initially. The elephant herd calmed, regrouped and moved off into the surrounding mopane scrub and, as silence fell, the lions returned.
Ivory was promptly darted by Dr Monks and, once unconscious, her VHF radio collar was replaced by a satellite GPS collar. She appeared to be in good condition though adorning some scars, and close inspection showed no apparent signs of pregnancy. Once our work was completed she was given a reversal and brought to. We remained with her until she regained full consciousness and mobility. By morning she and the rest of the pride were in the same location looking no worse for wear and having fully enjoyed the rest of the bait.
In the few days since the collar has been deployed, location information downloaded from it has already revealed the pride are ranging further west than expected in the Jenje River area. Data over the next few months will be of great interest and it is hoped this collar will help in determining if this pride are ranging into the Sanyati West area, and possibly moving with other fragmented pride members, or if there is in fact another pride ranging here.
Whilst monitoring Ivory around this time the buffalo herds have made numerous appearances on the lakeshore, much to the enjoyment of MNP lodges and their guests. A herd of c. 130 has been sighted almost daily, moving along the lakeshore, with numerous healthy calves. Hopefully this is a sign of the return of the herds to the Matusadona lakeshore!
Yet, even with the somewhat plentiful buffalo herds, littering the lakeshore the lions are continuing their pursuit of elephant. Another elephant carcass was discovered on the 16th of a young adult cow, estimated to be 25-30 years old based on body size and dentition. Data from previously fitted collars indicted the male cohort, the ‘Jenje Boys’, had been feasting alongside the Eastern Pride. There were some signs of a struggle in the surrounding vegetation of the kill site, and wounds on the carcass suggest the lions may have launched an attack, however the sheer size of this animal alone would have been an immense challenge for a pride of lions of this size. Maybe this elephant was sick or injured, giving the lions an opportunity to take prey larger than they might otherwise be able to overpower. As the data set for elephant predation builds it is hoped we will gain a greater understanding of the elephant hunting lions of Matusadona.
About the Matusadona Lion Project (MLP)
Since its commencement in 2014, the MLP 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.