Category Archives: lions

Sisters Doing it For Themselves!

Hi all,

We have three packs (Pita, Mapura and Chapungu) denning rather late in the year in the Save Valley Conservancy. Wild dogs normally only breed once a year when they occupy a den for three months during June-August. These are the second denning events for Mapura and Pita Packs for this year. The three new litters could potentially contribute an additional 14 dogs to the conservancy’s population, if survival is good. Since the start of the denning season we have lost 50% of our pups with highest mortality being after the wild dogs have left the den and are more vulnerable to snare poaching and lion predation. Chapungu Pack, consisting of two females, were first sighted in September this year and later identified to be two sisters from the late Maera Pack of the conservancy. They were both pups in 2010 and were last sighted in 2011. We have no idea who the alpha male was, or where he is now, but the two sisters appear to be successfully raising four pups. However, they have their fair share of obstacles. On the recent den cameras the  alpha female has two puncture wounds on her left side, evidence of a potential failed lion attack, and a lioness was sighted moving through the den area a couple of times.


LionFortunately, there are still four pups and the sister of the alpha female seems to be taking good care of the alpha’s injuries and is regularly seen licking the wounds. This will help to keep the wounds clean and clear of infection allowing the injuries time to heal well. We will continue to monitor the progress of the female and the survival of the pups and hope that these two sisters will be able to successfully raise and protect the pups against potential threats. A very difficult task for two wild dogs who rely on the cooperative nature and power of their pack to successfully hunt, feed and protect their young.



More soon!

‘Old Male’ Passes Away

Hi all,

This post is a little outdated, but an interesting one none the less.

On the 27 May 2013 Rueben, our head scout, informed us that he had come across Tick’s body. Tick was our oldest male dog, born possibly before 2004. Bite marks to his head, neck and chest cavity indicated that he had been killed by lions. Although sad, we quickly learnt to appreciate the rarity of a wild dog living a long and successful life and dying of natural causes as opposed to accidental snaring, or human persecution. Tick’s death also provided us with a great opportunity to learn more about the biology of wild dogs, and his skull will be used for education purposes amongst our local community schools.

IMG_4820 IMG_4768 IMG_4749

Last week we lost another wild dog as a result of conflict with lion. Forax, the alpha female of the Mapura pack denning on Chishakwe Ranch, was found dead 15m from the den. The cause of death was not immediately apparent as our scout found no obvious tracks or ‘tell-tale’ signs. A post mortem revealed Forax died from a cat bite (most probably lion) at the base of her spine. Fortunately, the pups were weaned and the rest of the pack is continuing to feed and look after the 11 pups well. A few of the pups are pictured below with Tornado, another female in the pack who seems to be a very devoted aunty and is never found far from the pups or the den!


More soon,

The AWCF Team

Remember the Lion Carcass at the Den?

Hi Everyone,

Remember the lion carcass we found at the Batanai Four pack’s den? The Batanai Four pack (four dogs that split from the Batanai pack of thirty at the beginning of the denning season), has been disturbed by lions from the moment they started denning (see this link for the original story: As if having a dead lion at the den was not enough, this pack of four was visited by an adult female lion again on the 6th of last month. The lioness was captured on BUSHNELL camera traps as she walked around the den, and as she left. However, no activity was captured on camera of what the lioness might have done at the den. On cameras set up at other packs’ den sites we have seen a male lion digging in the holes of the den, presumably trying to dig out the pups.

Lioness at the Den

The next day, one of the females from the Batanai Four pack was seen removing what appeared to be dead pups from the active hole. What happened to these pups? Is it a coincidence that there was a lioness at the den on the previous night and they were dead the next day, or were they were sick? Perhaps they were from the litter of the other female in the pack and were killed by the alpha female, rare in the conservancy, but it does happen.


Almost two weeks later and two spotted hyaena were captured at the den site, it is a wonder that the pack has not moved from this den with so much pressure from competitive carnivores! However, despite all odds, four fit and healthy pups emerged from the den on the 19th of June and they have been an absolute pleasure to observe!


Hennie Pack3_

More soon on this, and other packs, in the Save Valley Conservancy!


Lions plague denning African wild dogs

Wild dogs in the Savé Valley Conservancy face great challenges from their greatest competitors, lions and hyenas. The denning season is when the effects on the wild dog population are most visible.

This pack of four dogs (split from the Batanai pack of 30 at the beginning of the denning season) has been disturbed by lions at their den from the time they started denning. On the 1st of June when we went to set up camera traps at the den, we found a dead young male lion, with most of its body in the hole where the pups and the alpha female were!!

dead lion at den_1 June 2013


This lion was suspected to be a lone individual, separated from the pride and could have been looking for easy prey. We managed to pull out the lion carcass with the help from the guys from Sango Ranch.

Clearing off dead lion

Dead lion after being pulled out


To our relief, the alpha female wild dog jumped out of the hole and ran off as we drove away.  We have yet to see the fate of pups, but mum being alive and well is a good sign….  We are just praying that the lion wasn’t sick and hasn’t transmitted any disease to the wild dogs.  We’ll be keeping a very close eye on them.

More on lions at this den site coming soon!

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Hi folks,

I was driving up through the Save Valley Conservancy the other day, when I spotted a lionness near the road.  I got my camera out and reversed back to where I had seen her, to be greeted by an amazing sight…  A pride of eleven lions, eight of whom were posing beautifully for this family portrait;

In total there were 2 adult females, 2 subadult females, 4 subadult males, and 3 cubs.  After a minute or two, they all got up and walked off, but luckily the bush was open enough for me to be able to follow them.  I was alone in the car, and spent a blissful hour with the pride, who were very relaxed with the vehicle and stayed all around me.

It was that magical time of the evening when the light was lovely and rich, and the relaxed nature of these beautiful animals afforded me some lovely photographic opportunities;

I was also treated to a thrilling sound display as several members of the group started roaring; first one, who was answered by another on the other side of the car, and then several others joined in.  A truly fantastic priviledge to see and hear these magnificent beasts at such close quarters.

Lions vs Wild Dogs

Hi Folks,

I’m just back from another 3 week field stint in Gonarezhou which I will write about soon.  But I just wanted to post some of these photos of lions that were seen at the Mapura den on Chishakwe Ranch in Save Valley Conservancy a few weeks ago.  It was a pride of 7 lions, who visited the den a couple of times.  Here are some of the curious youngsters investigating the den hole where the pups sleep.

Fortunately all the pups survived, but one of the pack’s adult males (probably the alpha male) was unfortunately killed. He was found a couple of hundred meters from the den.

Nonetheless the pack seems to be holding together okay.  They have two litters of pups but are no longer den bound, so I’m not sure how the little ones will do.  Just hope they don’t meet these lions again any time soon!

Back soon,



Adventures in Gonarezhou

Hi Folks,

As you know I am briefly back from a few months of fieldwork in the stunning but wild Gonarezhou National Park.

We were doing the annual carnivore spoor survey as well as looking for wild dog tracks that might lead us to finding a pack, or better yet a den site.  Some of the roads were a little tricky to navigate… but we got through in the end:

We found ourselves in some beautiful places along the way – this is one of my favorite views in the park.  It also made a good lunch spot and a great place to track from!

We were fortunate enough to see quite a lot of wildlife in the park, including many, many elephant herds, zebras, giraffes, eland, jackals, ostrich, buffalo, impala, wildebeest, one leopard and  three porcupines!  And of course an abundance of incredible bird life.

I love porcupines, so it was a real treat to see them in the day;

We didn’t pick up as many lion tracks as we would have hoped, although we did hear them on a couple of nights, and it seems their population may not be picking up as much as we thought.  Hyenas we heard every night – that’s one species that certainly seems to be doing well in the park!  Especially from this campsite, where they were all around us from evening until morning.

And of course the wild dogs… we still have a way to go to fully understand what the park’s population is, but signs are encouraging.  We found tracks throughout the area we were working in, and plenty of signs of successfully breeding packs.  Hopefully over the next few months we will be able to establish whether these dogs are in fact linked with the population in Kruger National Park as well.

Back soon,


Lions at the den!

A few weeks ago when we went to the Crocodile pack den we saw lion tracks there.  We checked the cameras and sure enough, we saw that a pair of lions had been to visit.  First though, there were a bunch of great pictures of the pups, playing and lazing around the entrance to their den:

Photos from the infra-red camera trap them showed what I always dread seeing…. lions – and right at the entrance to the den:

Fortunately however, a few hours later, pictures from the same camera showed all nine pups alive and well.  Whew!  Here they are being suckled by mom.

The following week they were all still at the den, none the worse for wear from the lions visit

Back soon,


First time to see lions

Hi folks,

I have some friends with me at the moment from Guruve Ltd – ethical promoters of African art.  Having been to Africa for 12 years, Tim hasn’t ever seen a lion! So, as you know, I am running a lion project here as well as the wild dog project, and have a few collars left to go on, so we gave it a go with Tim & Emma to see if we would be lucky.

Rosemary & Tim with the bait

We set up a bait in the very south west corner of Chishakwe Ranch – where the wild dog project is based.  We had a great scout, Witness, with us, who had seen lion tracks in the area the day before, not far from a lovely little dam.  So we set everything up and started calling….

Setting up the bait

After about 1 and a half hours we had had no response other than a peacefully browsing herd of eles in the background, but just then, in answer to a lion roar that I had been playing over the loud speakers, the bush erupted in a roaring duet from either side of the car! That woke everyone up!

The first group of lions that came in looked like 3 adult females but we couldnt see them very well as they stayed well in the background, showing no interest in the bait.

After another half an hour or so of trying to bring them in, we were just discussing whether to pack up for the night when we saw one of the females (or possibly a new female) come out of the bushes with a young adult male with her.  Although she was still wary, the presence of the male emboldened her and after a while she came up and started feeding on the bait.  Tim and Emma were both hugely excited – finally a proper sighting of a wild African lion – albeit an eerily red one in the red-filtered spotlight!

lion at the bait

But we don’t do things by halves here (:)) so after a few minutes of watching the lioness I darted her so that we could collar her.  The dart hit well and she went to sleep not far from the bait, which was great.  The collaring went well and we were pleased to note she was a very healthy lioness who appeared to be quite heavily pregnant.

sleeping lion

The reason we are collaring these lions is for part of a conservation-research project; to try and determine the impact of different hunting strategies on lion demographics and behavior, and also to try and reduce some of the human-lion conflict occurring on our boundary areas.

So, Chishakwe is clearly the pace to be for some excitement – and Tim and Emma were thrilled with experience!

Tim helping Rosemary with the lionBack soon,