Monitoring lion populations in Matusadona National Park as an element of the implementation of the Conservation Strategy and Action Plan for the Lion in Zimbabwe
Zimbabwe holds one of Southern Africa’s last strongholds of the African lion, however many areas with lion are in jeopardy of losing this apex predator. Human-wildlife conflict, habitat loss and poaching are diminishing many of Zimbabwe’s lion populations and destroying their habitat.
Matusadona National Park (MNP) once supported Africa’s second highest density of lions. The plentiful grasslands on the foreshore of Lake Kariba provided for swelling herds of buffalo and consequently the lions thrived. Yet, following fluctuations in lake levels and increases in poaching, the buffalo herds disappeared, quickly followed by the lions. The last census of lions in 2005 suggested just 28 individuals (down from nearly 90 individuals in 1998) remained on the valley floor and concerns have since been raised as to the populations long term viability.
MNP is also home to a designated Intensive Protection Zone for its black rhino population. Cheetah, leopard, hyena and wild dog are also known to inhabit the area, but a lack of in situ fieldwork has resulted in insufficient and out dated information regarding these species and the workings of this unique ecosystem.
The Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority’s Conservation Strategy and Action Plan for the Lion in Zimbabwe was set in place in 2006 to strengthen and guide the conservation and management of Zimbabwe’s lion population, but review of previous studies and literature for the strategy revealed “information on population status, current distribution and trend still remains lacking…” and key areas for research and management include “Improved understanding of the ecology and biology for the lion, including its habitat and prey.”
Information regarding the ecology of the resident lion population of the MNP valley floor is insufficient, and there is a lack of data for accurate population estimates, trends and distribution since 2005. With the establishment of the Matusadona Lion Project data will be gathered to fill these information gaps, as well as for other large predators known to inhabit the area.
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