Zimbabwe, Zambia

Kariba & Middle Zambezi

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Gains and losses for study lions

Gains and losses for study lions

Lion feeding on a young elephant
Lion feeding on a young elephant
Rae Kokes


By: Rae Kokes, Principle Researcher - Matusadona Lion Project



I’ve recently begun a second season in the field in Matusadona National Park, continuing a population ecology study of the resident valley floor lion. Last year was an eventful year for the research project and for the lion.

A total of 33 lion were successfully identified and recorded to build a database of individuals. An important aspect of this study is to determine a true population figure for the 450km2 area and, where possible, identifying individual animals provides an ideal measure.

Sadly the population lost 14 animals last year. The majority of these (11) were cubs and sub-adults - from observations the deaths were attributed to natural causes such as infanticide, starvation and predation. The loss of three adult lion to human induced factors, however, has had a significant impact, particularly on one of the three resident prides in the area.

Despite these losses, things are currently looking hopeful for this population. A new coalition of three males that arrived last year has taken over two of the three prides and has begun to sire cubs with their newly acquired females. It is unsure where these males have migrated from. Thanks to research in other areas of Zimbabwe and further field, we know males can travel huge distances and wherever this threesome has roamed from, they have brought a whole new realm for research with them – elephant predation.

Prior to their arrival the lion here were noted to scavenge from poached elephant, but there had been no evidence of elephant being actively hunted. Since August last year I have recorded eight known elephant kills that all appear to have been the work of this new coalition. The ages of these fallen pachyderms have varied from around two to nine years old, and all kills have been located within the denser woodland areas of the Park.

This behaviour is fascinating though I am yet to witness such a kill take place. Lion have been known to predate on elephant in Hwange and Chobe National Parks, and in other areas, but this is the first indication of such a prey preference in Matusadona.My hopes are that by providing such an enormous edible biomass, these new pride males may indirectly improve the cub survival rates amongst their prides.