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Another Zambezi wanderer

Another Zambezi wanderer

Another Zambezi wanderer

Readers of Zambezi Traveller will remember that in December last year a male lion radio-collared by this project walked from Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe to the outskirts of Livingstone in Zambia, risking a dangerous crossing of the Zambezi River in the process.

Field staff from Hwange Lion Research Project were astonished to find that yet another of their study animals had made an amazing journey. Our latest adventurer happens to be the son of our earlier ‘Zambezi Traveller.’ Kick Junior is the son of Dynamite and a lioness named Kick (hence our wanderer’s somewhat unimaginative moniker).

Kick Junior’s mother was killed by a speeding haulage truck on the Bulawayo to Victoria Falls highway. This tragedy may have triggered the three year old male lion’s move from the borderlands of Hwange National Park, where he had been making a nuisance of himself in the local communal lands, to the western border of Chizarira National Park.

This journey over a period of two weeks meant navigating through a well-populated community area, which this lion appears to have done in very fast nightly movements, seldom staying long in one place and seemingly avoiding contact with people.

After a brief sojourn in Chizarira, his next destination was Chete Safari Area and Sijarira Forest on the southern shores of Lake Kariba, a total walk of 207 kms from his home in Hwange. He appears to have enjoyed life on the lakeshore as he settled in this area for four months, before heading back towards Chizarira in late October.

So why are Hwange lions suddenly making these extensive movements? The answer is probably that they have always done so and that we are only just starting to notice. Until recently we have not had the technology to follow long range animal movements. The advent of reliable radio-collars that are able to record GPS position data and transmit these to the researchers via satellite means that we are far more likely to detect and monitor dispersing animals.

Young male lions are evicted from their natal prides between two and four years of age. They become itinerant wanderers until they can establish and defend a territory of their own. This is a risky time of life for a young lion and many die in altercations with stronger, more mature animals, or run afoul of livestock owners or poachers and are killed.

For a young male lion growing up in a National Park such as Hwange, with its healthy and expanding lion population, there are few opportunities to acquire a territory. Under these circumstances, limited options at home may make striking out into the unknown, as Kick Junior has done, a viable option for a young lion.

Evidence that lions are able to move between protected areas in the region covered by the recently proclaimed Kazungula-Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area is exciting. One of the greatest dangers in wildlife conservation is isolation of wild populations in small fragmented areas, which makes them more vulnerable to chance extinction and genetic inbreeding.

The fact that at least a few lions are able to move successfully between separated protected areas means that habitat corridors currently exist to maintain connectivity between the sub-region’s lion populations. This is crucial in maintaining and conserving lions over the long term.

An understanding, gained by the Hwange Lion Project and our colleagues in the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority, of how and where lions move and the routes they take allows conservationists and wildlife managers to prioritise activities to ensure habitat corridors between protected areas are conserved into the future.

Maintenance of movement corridors for wildlife will often mean asking local communities to tolerate and coexist with wild animals. It is therefore crucial to ensure that these communities have the means and motivations in the form of benefits from wildlife to do so.

Read more articles from this issue:
Zambezi Traveller (Issue 11, Dec 2012)

Read more about the region in our destination guide:

Other related stories from the Zambezi Traveller:
The Amazing Zambezi Traveller
Lion Captured Near Livingstone
Travelling Lion Turns a Spotlight on the Species

Zambezi Traveller Directory:
Hwange Lion Research