This blog is the ongoing diary of Matusadona Lion Project Principal Researcher, Rae Kokes:
There has been some potentially very revealing findings these last two weeks, along with some fantastic sightings.
After moving off from their waterbuck kill on the 28th of June, the Kanjedza Pride remained in the Kanjedza river area, moving to and fro from the shoreline. The two cubs have become more familiar with the research vehicle at a respectable distance, allowing for great visuals, and also a sexing correction. It is in fact a male (M118) and female cub (F124) surviving of the originally observed litter of three. The little female is by far the braver of the duo, leading her more cautious brother to explore, occasionally out of sight of mother F115, ‘Kanjedza’. The ever vigilant Kanjedza can often be seen softly calling to her cubs once they stray too far from the safety of the pride, and the twosome quickly return, bouncing along riverbanks and tree lines. Pride member F101, ‘Ivory’, is also starting to show further signs of pregnancy; swollen lower abdomen and prominent teats. She was last noted mating in April with pride male M108, ‘Toulouse’. Lions have a gestation period between 100 and 120 days, so if she is pregnant she would be expected to give birth any time from now to the end of the month.
My first visual of the Eastern Pride was obtained on the 8th of July. After time away from the Park, I, alongside guests of Rhino Safari Camp, were very happy to see that all four cubs of the pride are still in tow and looking very healthy. The pride have been spending the majority of their time in the Mukadzapela area after feeding for about a week on the last known elephant kill. A wonderful herd of c. 90 buffalo were spotted in the mouth of the Mukadzapela river and this may be the reason why the pride are loitering in this region.
The pride males, the ‘Jenje Boys’, have been moving as a threesome for nearly a month now, and spending more time in the vicinity of the Tashinga Pride. Males Toulouse and M110, ‘Mukadza’, were observed mating with lionesses F121, ‘Chura,’ and what is suspected to be the youngest female F122, ‘Muchenyi’, who until this point has not been sighted in the presence of any of the males. Toulouse struggled to keep up with his young mate as he appeared to have sustained a nasty wound to his front right paw, however, the drive to mate overpowered any discomfort and the large male hobbled into the rocky hills surrounding the Chura river following Muchenyi.
Camera traps placed along the escarpment road were checked, and another one deployed around the Sanyati West area. Even more game is appearing on the reviewed footage, including elusive honey badgers and bush pigs!
Most exciting however is the finding of three lions possibly unknown to the study along the far upper reaches of the Karonga river. Camera footage has captured what appears to be two adult lionesses and a sub-adult female, c. 15-18 months old. Unfortunately, despite stills being taken during daylight hours, the resolution of the photos has made identifying these animals by their whisker spot patterns very difficult. It is possible that the two adults are lions identified last year, but that have not been sighted since. Lionesses are known to migrate away from natal prides depending on the number of lions within the pride, as well as in response to prey availability. Prides are also known to fragment, which is what has been suspected for the Kanjedza Pride. The presence of the sub-adult female may correspond with a sighting reported of three lionesses and three sub-adults in the Crocodile Creek region of the Park, however the camera trap footage is from an area much further away. Despite questions arising as to who these lions are and to which pride they belong, if not an unknown pride, this has provided evidence that lions are in fact moving through this little explored region of the Park. Their presence also ties in with a high frequency of favoured prey species captured on cameras in the area, as well dung of buffalo, impala, zebra and kudu being observed during a recent excursion into these hills.
Are these lions moving through the hills? Is this sub adult perhaps the last known offspring of previous pride male M101, ‘Shepherd’? Are these animals fragmented members of the Kanjedza Pride? Are they an unidentified pride? Are they utilising the permanent springs of the base escarpment areas as opposed to the lakeshore areas? Only continued research in this area will reveal the answers.
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.