This blog is the on-going diary of Matusadona Lion Project Principal Researcher, Rae Kokes:
It’s been a very eventful couple weeks here in Matusadona.
On the 21st of July location statistics downloaded for the collared “Jenje Boys” cohort revealed the threesome had crossed the Ume River along the western boundary of the Park for the first time since collaring. This is certainly not out of the ordinary and has been somewhat expected following reports of a small pride of females inhabiting the neighbouring consumptive area. Movement such as this is an example of the importance of protected private lands bordering National Parks to allow free movement of animals. However the males appeared to find little to hold their interest in these unknown lands and returned to the Chura River area in the National Park where they are frequenting most often, currently following the Tashinga Pride females.
Visuals were obtained of the Eastern Pride on the 22nd and 23rd in the Mukadzapela region. All four cubs are still present and in very good health alongside the three pride females. At an estimated c. 7-8 months the cubs appear to be going through an expected weaning phase. All suckling attempts made towards mothers F105, “Sanyati”, and F109, “Matusadona” were met with brazen snarls and kicks. The four young males are being provided for more than adequately however, even in the absence of mother’s milk. A juvenile kudu kill was located on the 30th following an impala ram kill, and the small pride are presumed to be feeding on another yet to be located kill currently.
On the 1st of August the two Kanjedza Pride females were observed sweeping the shoreline in pursuit of impala in the Changachirere area. The two small cubs of the pride have not been sighted with the females since the 15th of July, and the recently fitted GPS collar on lioness F101, “Ivory” has shown the twosome are covering vast tracks daily. Are the c. 5 month old cubs being left behind more often consequently? Is this smaller pride struggling to provide for the two cubs? Cubs may be left for long periods and hopes are they will re-join the females soon.
Over this past weekend Matusadona NP hosted its first game count through Wildlife & Environment Zimbabwe (WEZ). Teams were allocated to water sources within the valley floor area to undertake static counts, whilst others partook in walked transects. I was fortunate enough to undertake the transect in the little traversed Crocodile Creek area and up into the foothills. We were lucky enough to observe numerous grysbok, impala, some klipspringers and, most interesting, a large herd of zebra. A total of 20 were spotted galloping in the recently burnt hills overlooking a stunning view of the valley floor. Reports of lion sightings have been received intermittently from this area and it is expected animals here may perhaps be fragmented members of the Kanjedza Pride, or perhaps a fourth pride that pass through on occasion. Game sighted here suggests the area could very well support another small pride and/or sub-group of lions. A second transect was undertaken along the Kaingwe River where we were treated to wonderful sightings of kudu bulls, bushbuck and came across an old Tonga settlement on the river bank, evident by grinding stones and axe heads. Matusadona supports some fantastic anthropological sites within the valley floor area giving life to the history of the displaced Tonga people of the Zambezi Valley.
The game count was a fantastic success and saw the highest number of self-drive visitors to the park since 2011. It is hoped such activities will encourage more people to visit this lost Eden. What’s more, the park roads are currently being repaired and improved by a JCB facilitated by the Zambezi Society and funded by Save the Elephants, which will make visiting the park all the more enjoyable, and improve access to poorly covered areas for research and anti-poaching purposes.
Sadly the park and the research project has had a significant loss this week. ZPWMA NP ranger Ms Dorothy Siwela left Matusadona NP after a 3 year posting to move to Lake Cheviro. Ms Siwela has been a phenomenal asset to the Matusadona Lion Project and became a very dear friend. Many, many, many late nights, early mornings and long drives were shared with her; her enthusiasm for the research and the conservation of this Park never faltered. Many hours were shared in the field discussing lions and painfully trying to give a Yorkshire girl Shona lessons. The project would not be where it is at this point without her help and I, amongst others here, will always be grateful. Ndichakusuwa!
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.