Collaring lions isn't as easy as you might think
July 27 2014

There have been even more happenings this week, to the point where any and all days have merged in to one long lion-shaped blurb - fantastic!

On the 14th we tried again in vain to collar the large male of the Jenje Boys coalition. A call-up station was set up in the Sanyati West Bay area and it was decided after observing such intent against hyenas during our last collaring effort, to play the sounds of hyenas feeding.  We had sighted the Kanjedza Pride and the recently collared lioness ‘Ivory’ earlier that evening in the area and had hoped she was perhaps being escorted by the male we were after, however by midnight no lions had appeared leaving our entertainment to the ambling hyenas.  Suddenly something sprinted through the bushes, past the bait and into the bay. We quickly grabbed night vision binoculars and confirmed, finally, it was a lion, and precisely the one we were after. He continued on the pursuit of the phantom hyena however so we resumed the hyena calls to lure him back to the bait.  He was soon joined by Kanjedza Pride lioness, ‘Kanjedza’ and the echoing hyenas whoops and giggles set both lions into a steady trot towards us - quite a daunting sight.  Once the at the bait the two sniffed and gazed at the hanging crocodile meat, yet once again did not feed and eventually moved off to sleep.  After another hour of waiting we accepted our losses and the following day abandoned the meat to the lions who declined the offer of free meat.  The fact that these lions are not eating crocodile meat is of course frustrating but also fascinating.

Matusadona Lion Project

By the 16th the male ‘Toulouse’ had remained with the collared lioness ‘Ivory’ allowing us to track him right to our doorstep in camp.  We had also managed to obtain more desirable meat and our hopes were high.  We began to call the lions in and within 10 minutes lionesses ‘Ivory’ and ‘Kanjedza’ began to feed contentedly, encouraging the cautious male to join. Eventually he did and another perfect shot was taken seeing the large male fall quickly unconscious.  We worked with precision and ease and in complete awe - he was enormous! Substantially larger than ‘Shepherd’; my weight estimation based on chest girth for him is c. 190-200kgs and yet is most likely only 5 years old with still some room for further growing.

The following day I awoke and turned straight to my laptop.  The fitted collar on ‘Toulouse’ is a satellite based GPS collar programmed to upload 4 readings a day as to his whereabouts.  Since fitting the collar the data has been outstanding and absolutely fascinating!  He is roaming vast distances overnight, seemingly between the two prides, but mostly residing with the Kanjedza Pride.

On the morning of the 17th we headed out into the Mukazapela River area in hopes of picking up spoor of the other male we hope to collar. Luckily it turns out Antelope Park’s General Manager, Nathan Webb, who has been assisting our collaring exercise, has an amazing gift for spotting lions in the undergrowth and quickly directed us to the male in question, and a new mate, Eastern Pride lioness F105, ‘Sanyati’. Surprisingly the male was very relaxed as we approached the twosome allowing me to gather important photographs for ID purposes. This is closest I had gotten to what I was presuming was a member of the ‘Mukazapela Boys’ coalition of 2.  When first sighted in April the pair fled at the sound of the vehicle leaving me with very little information about them. Was the male’s confidence gaining now that he was making allegiance with the Eastern Pride girls?

We decided to therefore try and lure the male to a call-in station for collaring nearby.  We quickly set up our equipment, began to call and watched as the Eastern Pride lionesses began to feed. The male however had other things on his mind and stuck to the side, and rear end, of lioness ‘Sanyati’.  Fortunately lioness ‘Matusadona’ who I have been hoping to collar was present and we attempted to dart her, but failed to do so as it appeared she was also coming into heat there and then meaning her focus on the meat was lacking. We wrapped up for the evening and tried our luck the following night in another area close by.  Lioness ‘Gogo’ was the first on the scene.  She encircled the bait inquisitively and sat at the base of the tree gazing up into the branches at the speakers.  Out of nowhere she launched 3-4m in one impressive leap up the tree and scrambled another 3m up to the speakers. Satisfied that perhaps there really wasn’t a dying buffalo calf stuck in the mopane leaves she jumped back down, of course on all 4 paws. Was this an indication of ‘Gogo’ perhaps being an experienced leopard kill stealer?

By the end of the evening we successfully collared lioness F107, ‘Elizabeth’.  Although I had intended to collar ‘Matusadona’ my basis for this was my observations of her separation from the pride, but was this valid? I have only been observing her since March during which time she had a litter which no doubt influenced her movements significantly. Therefore could I correctly state she was often on the periphery of the pride? Since collaring lioness F106, ‘Gogo’, however I have noticed that she in fact is often alone. The reason for this I am yet to decipher but I decided to therefore collar ‘Elizabeth’, a more dominant, younger lioness, often found with the rest of the pride.

So we now have 4 lions collared - 3 females within 2 prides, and 1 male from a coalition.  We are currently working on collaring the remaining male lion however again his interests in following the lionesses are proving to be too distracting for him.

I also discovered some very exciting news in the last few days. Toulouse has so far only been mating with lioness ‘Kanjedza’ with ‘Ivory’ milling around in the area.  Back on the 15th I observed ‘Ivory’ take quite a lashing from ’Toulouse’ as he attempted to court with ‘Kanjedza’. She occasionally fought back and kicked up some dust in the process but the huge male certainly kept her maintaining a mostly subordinate stance. 

Matusadona Lion Project

On the 22nd after looking at coordinates for the male and picking up signal for ‘Ivory’ by the Kanjedza River I walked onto the pair after hearing mating in the scrub.  Unsurprisingly my presence on foot was met with a firm growl and the lions running off however a houseboat later confirmed that there were in fact 4 lions present. I managed to watch ‘Ivory' from the vehicle and it appeared to me that she wasn’t being covered by the male.  However I have just received a photo from a houseboat guest who saw the 2 later that afternoon and observed them mating.

Matusadona Lion Project

This is GREAT news. Even when pregnant lionesses will on occasion mate with interested males after a pride take over. This is of course a ‘false heat’ yet is a very tactful move as this may now indicate that ‘Toulouse’ will consider her pending litter to be his own rather than ‘Shepherd’s', somewhat increasing their chances of survival.

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