Zimbabwe, Zambia

Kariba & Middle Zambezi

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Lion survey starts in the valley

Lion survey starts in the valley

Lion survey starts in the valley
RAE KOKES

BY RAE KOKES

Matusadona National Park once boasted Africa’s second highest density of lion. With heaving buffalo herds grazing on the plentiful grasslands of Lake Kariba’s foreshore, lions gorged themselves for years and the population boomed to more than a hundred in the 1990s.

Sadly this time of plenty faded away. As lake levels fluctuated the grass began to disappear and with that the buffalo, and shortly following, the lion. A population estimate was made in 2005 of a mere 28 lion on the valley floor and concerns were raised regarding their long-term viability. An exponential increase in poaching and possible trophy hunting pressures are also feared to have taken a toll on the lion population of Matusadona, but overall their current situation is little known or understood.

In March I was fortunate enough to head out across Lake Kariba to Matusadona and begin a population ecology study on the resident valley floor lion. I have been provided with a variety of current population estimates ranging from just seven to more than forty. The aim of the study is to determine a true population figure for the area, investigate its long-term viability and understand the ecology of these prides.

The Matusadona National Park forms an integral part of the Kavango Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area (KAZA) and encompasses some 1,400km2 of natural habitat. Unlike other wildlife areas, however, its ecological balance is dictated by one single, formidable feature – Lake Kariba. Matusadona’s flora and fauna are intertwined biologically with Lake Kariba’s seasonal levels, and the lions are no exception.

The lion is one of nature’s most spectacular examples of adaptability, found thriving in a variety of different habitat types and sustained by a diverse range of prey. Despite the decline in buffalo, a preferred prey, the Matusadona lion have switched to other available game, mostly impala. High concentrations of impala on the lakeshore have provided a sufficient biomass for prides and one may witness a lioness ambushing an impala herd into the shallow waters from the cover of nearby bushes.

Having only been here for two months, I have been fortunate enough to identify and observe two prides. Two lion have been collared from one pride and data being gathered from regular tracking is providing an insight into the inner workings of Kariba’s big cat prides.

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ZT17 (June 2014) - Main Menu
ZT17 (June 2014) - Full Content Listing

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