Chizarira Report: January 2020

The ALERT Research Team at Chizarira National Park would like to acknowledge Wildlife Encounter and Antelope Park for their continued financial support towards conservation efforts at Chizarira National Park. The team is also grateful to Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority (ZPWMA) for their constant support of the ongoing research program being conducted within Chizarira National Park. Gratitude also goes to Sinansengwe Secondary School, the Local Community and its Leadership for their continued support and participation in ALERTs community-related programs. Appreciation also cascades to our fellow ALERT co-workers in different sites for emotional and mental support.

Lion Research

Prelude

Chizarira National Park has an estimated population of 35 – 40 lions excluding those under a year old and 48 individual lions (inclusive of cubs’ younger than 12 months).  The ALERT Research Team propounds that there are 4 -5 resident prides, these include collared prides (Mabola and Kaswiswi) and Un-collared prides (Sinompas and Chimbova).

Two lionesses are currently collared within Chizarira National Park, a Protected Area in Matabeleland North. These lionesses are part of the Mabola pride-Lion 2171 (n=15) and Kaswiswi pride- Lion 2170 (n=8) respectively. Through regular spoor transects, incidental sightings, camera traps and call ups during collaring activities throughout the park, the team postulates that the  Sinompas pride has 1 adult male and 3 adult females (n=4).

Pride dynamics

Unfortunately, due to the dense vegetation cover and the regular rains experienced at Chizarira National Park, the active tracking of Lion 2170 was impossible both on foot and by vehicle. However, GPS tracking of the lioness and her pride showed that she moved extensively throughout her range though most of her time was spent near the Mucheni river which is within the territory of Lion 2171 (Mabola pride). Home range overlap is a common phenomenon around lions or some wild cats.

The Mabola pride (Lion 2171) was actively tracked by VHF and GPS as their presence was at times close to the roads and consequently easily noticeable (Figure 1). The pride was still intact and enhanced the notion that lions are the most social cats as different roles have been seen and noted from the females of the pride.

The male of the pride was noted with the pride and unlike the females and the cubs (Figure 2&3), he was not afraid of foreign elements (Research vehicle).  The cubs spent most of the close to their mothers and not so much as the male of the pride.

Lions in Chiz

Images showing the male and a female within the Mabola territory.

Home ranges

The movement of the collared lions, Mabola and Kaswiswi Prides. The Mabola pride showed to move less throughout the park, this could be a result of the high resources within the Mabola territory. Unlike the movement of the Kaswiswi pride which could have been a result of fewer resources within its home range.

Various factors could have been at play however research to understand why the lioness  2170 moved extensively. Though the Mabola pride was collared in the last half of the year it has remained rooted within its core territory (Figure 4)

Home Ranges Chizarira National Park

Home ranges of the collared lions : Movements patterns of two prides as from Jan 1, 2019 to Jan 31, 2020

Cub survival

Due to the aforementioned reasons, i.e dense vegetation cover the cubs in the Kaswiswi Pride were not identified. However, in the Mabola Prideonly, four (4) were seen in the first sighting session and eight (8) cubs were seen during the second session. The other two could have been there but due to the dense vegetation cover their presence was not seen. Attaining the extent of Cub survival is essential in places such as Chizarira National Park as the lion population is low within the Park and reasons, why they are low, have to be established and documented.

Cub survivals also reflect on the extent of predator dynamics such as infanticides, intra-guild competition etc. Chizarira National Park is also a source to other “sink” protected areas around it ie Chete and Chirisa Safari Areas. Cub monitoring will continue as it will give management and the scientific community a deeper understanding of lion population dynamics.

Prey preference

Kill sites were identified using the cluster system on the AWT system, unfortunately, this method is skewed towards large prey base. The Kaswiswi pride preyed on waterbuck (n=2), bushbuck (n=1) and a warthog (n=1). The Mabola pride killed and preyed on waterbucks (n=3) during the first month of the year. The high degree of waterbucks killed by the collared prides does not resonate with most research findings.

However, this could be a result of the high abundance of waterbuck within the park especially close to the escarpment and lions being opportunistic in nature.

Activity budgets

The activity budgets for the Mabola pride were done to ascertain how wild lions conduct themselves in the hot wet period. As assumed the lions / pride spent most of the time resting which is a common phenomenon with lions. Lions are known to be lazy cats and this also affects their hunting successes hence being opportunistic hunters.

Activity budgets of Mabola pride

Lion Activity Time
2171 (female and cubs) Feeding (acoustics- night near station) 5 hours
Locomotion 25 minutes
Vigilant 30minutes
Resting
1 hour 30 minutes
Mabola male Vigilant 6 minutes
Locomotion 8 minutes
Drinking water 2 minutes
Resting 2 hours
Elephants in Chizarira National Park

Elephant Research

The collared herd was still resident near ZPWMA HQ and moved through Mabola- Kaswiswi and Kasansi areas. The herd is actively tracked by GPS and VHF to check on their condition and foraging patterns. The core areas of their home ranges were influenced by the springs ieBimba, Manzituba, Kasansi springs. The observed diet of the elephants included Brachystegiaboehmii, Colophospermummopane, Julbernadiaglobiflora, Dispyrossp, Silver Terminalia, Marula, Combretumspp, Peltophorumafricanum.

The elephant herd had not gone down into the communal lands or left the protected area and shown no signs of Human-wildlife conflict however from the 20th to the 24th January the herd moved to the communal conservation area and a bit of the communal area and then back into the protected area (Figure 5). Pictures of the herd were taken during the 28th of January within the park (Figure 6&7)

Peradventure where the elephants moved through, is a corridor of elephants between Chete safari area and Chizarira National Park. This is essential information for conservation since this could aid in mapping hotspots for Human-wildlife conflict and coming out with mitigation strategies suited for the Chizarira National park and its buffer areas ie Gumpoles, chilli bombs and bee hives.

The movement of the herd out of the protected area calls for the resuscitation of the lion guardian, one could focus on the elephants and one on the lions. This could assist in reducing human-wildlife conflict which is rampant during the first quarter of the year. The first quarter of the year has more pronounced green mealies, sorghum and millet in the communal gardens.

The herd dynamics of the group were checked during the tracking sessions and 50 elephants (both male and females) and calves were identified with the herd.

Elephant Research in Chiz

Conservation Education

This Month the conservation education program was at its planning phase. The 2020 annual conservation education syllabus was compiled by the ALERT community research desk in Chizarira National Park. The year’s strategy consists of the taking up of the form one and two classes.

The classes will be taught a new syllabus which shall include practical and theory lessons meant to instil and strengthen a sustainable Afro-centric view towards conservation and living adjacent protected areas.

Vegetation assessment

The ALERT team in collaboration with ZPWMA carried out a field excursion into the park where vegetation assessment feasibility and pilot studies were done. The idea of establishing permanent, recorded and monitored plots overtime was the intended objective. The re-creation of a herbarium was also a welcome idea.

Though instruments such as a tape measure, graduate pole, stationery were availed to the research team, the team still was in need of field guides i.e. (Trees of Southern Africa)

Lantana Camara

The research team with assistance from ZPWMA establish a pilot study to assess which species utilize L.camara within Chizarira National Park. The pilot study was done through the setting up of camera traps in areas where there is an invasion.

The cameras captured a number of interesting species grazing and browsing through the area of invasion. Amongst these species captured included bushbuck, buffalo and chacma baboons. Of these 3 species, only the baboons were clearly seen utilising the Lantana and seemingly browsing on the leaves and fruits ( Pictures below)

Park assistance

ALERT is glad to have assisted with park activities that include deployments and assisting with tasks that ZPWMA asked them to do. The research team hopes to continue aiding parks when a duty arises.

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