Category Archives: lions

Wild dogs killed by lions and snares

Hi folks,

This is a bit of a depressing and slightly gory post, but I think it’s important to show all side of the story in our efforts to conserve the wild dogs out here in Zimbabwe.  Although we’ve had lots of puppies born and lots of good news to report, unfortunately we’ve also had quite a few dogs killed recently – and mostly by lions.

In the last couple of weeks, we’ve found 4 wild dog carcasses, three of which were killed by lions.  The fourth carcass was too old for cause of death to be ceratin, but damage to the skull suggests possibly a lion attack as well.  Two of the definite lion kills were of known dogs from the Mapura pack; an old male called Nyaminyami and a yearling female known as Tramp.  Fortunately (if we are to try and find a silver lining in this), the attack happened away from the den, when the dogs were out hunting, so their pups were not harmed and their den not disturbed.

Nyaminyami - killed by lions1

Tramp - killed by lions

The other dog definitely killed by lions was an adult male from the Mapari pack (we suspect) but we were not able to identify him.  The post mortem showed that he had had his spine broken by the lions.

Dead dog showing puncture marks

The other carcass was too old to be identified, or for cause of death to be reliably established, but we believe it was a member of the Nyarushanga Pack which had been denning not far from where it was found.  We have yet to see that pack well enough to see which, if any, dogs are missing.

At the same time all this was happening in Save Valley Conservancy, we also found our collared wild dog in Gonarezhou dead, having been caught in a snare.  I’ll report on that in a separate post, as she was showing some extremely interesting movement behavior before she was killed.

So all in all a depressing couple of weeks, but just serves to highlight how important it is try to mitigate human threats, so that the combined impact of that and these natural deaths is less severe.

Back soon with better news I hope,


Lions at the Mambira den….

We had a bit of a shock when we visited the Mambira Pack den site a few days ago and found our camera trap bitten, broken and covered in salivary mud.  It could only mean one thing…. LIONS!

Fortunately the camera had still been working at the time and we could extract the SD card.  These were the last photos on the card………





Fortunately however, when we had first arrived at the den, we had seen both pups and all five adults, so it looks like the lions failed to get any dogs.  Whew!!

It’s still a bit worrying that the pack only has two pups, but ever since they first emerged from the den there have only been two.  It may just be that this first time mother only had two pups to start with, or else something happened to the rest of the litter in the first three weeks of their life.  We’ll never know about that, but at least we do know that both remaining pups survived this lion visit, so just maybe they will do okay after all.

Looking for lions and wild dogs in Gonarezhou National Park

Hi folks,

Apologies for being quiet on the blog recently without any explanation – it’s a pretty busy time here at the moment, and while we have lots of exciting things to report, I’m just not getting the time to do it.  Anyway, here I am at my desk, and the reason we’ve been quiet for so long is because we’ve been working in the beautiful and remote Gonarezhou National Park, where I am now running the Gonarezhou Predator Project.  We were hoping to find the den sites of the two main packs of wild dogs in the park, and possibly even collar them.  We also wanted to check up on our collared lions and download their collars, amongst other things.

Well, it turns out we were being a bit optimistic with the wild dogs.  Despite endless hours every day looking for tracks and following all signs of dogs, we failed to locate either pack.  It’s not the easiest terrain for tracking wild dogs, and roads are few and far between…

difficult terrain for finding wild dogs

We did however learn a lot more about the dogs and their behavior from the spoor, so although we never saw any wild dogs, it’s been a very informative 10 days.  Rueben has, as always, been a star, and worked tirelessly in all conditions trying to locate the dogs


On several occasions our tracking brought us down to the edge of the Runde River – no shortage of signs of hippos and crocs:

Rueben following dog spoor

Crocodile tracks – of a monster croc!!

crocodile tracks!

We’ll try again with the dens and collaring in August.

We were much luckier with the lions, managing to pick up all three collared groups without too much effort, and downloaded the two GPS collars without incident.  The other group, with a VHF collar, we found near a road so we waited there till after dark in the hope we would see them, which indeed we did.  It seems our collared lioness is currently with one subadult male – the other seven members of the pride we saw the following day when downloading the GPS collar.

our collared lioness

subadult  male lion at night

So, we won with the lions but it’s definitely 1:nil to the wild dogs this time.  We’ll try again in a couple of weeks.

Back soon,


Splinter Pack moves dens

Hi folks,

A couple of weeks ago we went to the Bedford Splinter Pack den site, only to find it abandoned.  We looked around but there was no recent sign of any wild dog activity so we checked the camera trap to see if that would shed some light on what happened.  Unfortunately, because it was not an infra-red camera we were unable to establish the reason they chose to move dens.  But we did get some great shots of the alpha female carrying the pups away to their new den.

MDGC1165 - MOVING DEN-Splinters (1)

MDGC1165 - MOVING DEN-Splinters (2)

MDGC1165 - MOVING DEN-Splinters (3)

It may well have been lion disturbance or something like that – because I switch the flash off on these cameras when I put them at the dens, any night time activity is simply recorded as a black photograph.  And there were more than 100 of these blank, black photos the night before they moved dens, suggesting perhaps a nocturnal visitor which scared them off….  This is an image captured at one of last years dens.

DSC_0036 - lioness with puppy in her mouth

Infra-red camera traps cost US$200 each – if anyone would consider sponsoring the project enough to buy one (or even go towards buying one) we would be very grateful.  They are extremely valuable tools and the information we get from them is exceptionally useful.  Without these, the lion activity at den sites is going to go pretty much unrecorded unfortunately.  We have 3 and need at least 4 more.  If you can help, please click on the DONATE button on the right hand side of this page or go to our project home page by following this link.

Thank you,


Lion collaring in Save Valley Conservancy

We had 10 collars to fit to lions during the survey so, once we were sure we had properly counted and recorded all the lions in the group, if we had an opportunity to dart an adult, we did so.  In total, in the two week survey we managed to collar 8 cats: 4 adult females and 4 males.

In general the immobilisations went very well and the lions were back on the bait as soon as they recovered from the drugs. Here are some pictures of some of the lion collaring exercise:

We used a red filtered spotlight to light the animals for darting: they looked pretty eerie!


In most cases, after initially jumping up as the dart hit, the lions returned to the bait where they fell asleep.



We then fitted the collars, took blood and other samples and treated any serious looking injuries.  In most cases the lions were reversed after about an hour and all recovered without a problem.






We’ll be getting a student in in the next few months to monitor these lions in an effort to investigate the impact of different hunting strategies on lion family groups, and also to work on mitigating human-lion conflict when lions kill livestock.  It’s a sister project to the wild dog project, and will provide great information for the wild dog project as well, because of the impact of lions on the wild dogs.

The lion team was generously hosted by Chishakwe and Sango Ranches for most of the survey: thanks also to Humani, Senuko and Hammond Camps for having beds ready for us when we pitched up filthy and exhausted in the middle of the night!

Save Valley Lion Survey

Hi folks,

We are busy with the lion survey in SVC at the moment and have had some great lion experiences.  The purpose of the survey is to try to establish the number of lions in the conservancy, but also to investigate group size and the age and sex structure of the population.

The baiting sites were chosen randomly to give maximum coverage of the conservancy.  We set up the baits and the vehicle by 17:30 every night and then started calling the lions, using the traditional lion call up sounds (mainly the sound of a buffalo calf in distress).  We stayed at each site till 23:00 (or later if lions were present) and then left the baits with camera traps up, to record any animals that may have been too shy to come in while the vehicle was there.

bait site

The first couple of nights in the extreme north of the conservancy were very quiet.  And my goodness was it cold sitting out in the back of a vehicle until 23:00 every night!!!  Here’s a photo of us checking the bait at the end of the night – all kitted out in cold weather gear, and feeling a bit like teddy bears!

cold weather gear!

On the second night, we attracted a couple of adult lionesses to the area, but they were too shy to come right in to the bait.  Here’s one of the camera trap pictures of the skittish one. you can just see her eyes shining in the background, but that’s as close as she came.

wary female at the gunundwe bait

Third time lucky however, and on the third night we had a group of two adult males and two adult females come in – all very relaxed and confident.  We had some great sightings of them, and even managed to dart and collar one of the males and one of the females for future monitoring.

two males - nice

the two females

Both collaring exercises went well and both animals returned to the bait almost as soon as they had woken up!  Here is our newly collared male tucking in just as soon as he could stumble in the direction of the meat!

collared male back at the bait

Another two weeks of the survey, so more pics coming soon,


At least seven puppies for the Crocodile Pack

Hi folks,

The other day I posted a camera trap photo of the first sighting of the Crocodile Pack Pups.  In later pictures we can see there are at least seven pups and may be more!


They are very cute things – full of character and some of them have especially beautiful markings.  I just hope they make it through the denning season without being discovered by lions.  Unfortunately they have denned in an area with a very high lion density, but let’s hope they remain unaffected by them.



On the subject of lions, we are starting a big lion survey in the Save Valley Conservancy today, to try and find out exactly how many lions there actually are and what the group composition, age structure etc is.  We have several collars to put on during the survey so that lion monitoring can be continued in the future.  So if I’m quiet on this blog for a while, that’s why.  But I’ll try and post some pictures of the lion survey soon.



Lion Collaring in Gonarezhou – Part 2

Well, as I said in the last post, we were very lucky with our collaring exercise in Gonarezhou.  We darted three subadults the first night, with the help of Dr Chris Foggin (chief wildlife vet) who wanted to test the lions for Bovine TB, a disease which has recently been identified in the buffalo population in the area, and which can spread into lions.

We were very lucky – having arrived late in the area, we were out looking for a suitable baiting site when we happened to see a small group of lions!  The first time I have EVER seen lions in the park without calling them!  By the time we had moved off and made up darts, they had disappeaered but knowing they were nearby, we set up the bait and had 5 lions feeding on it in minutes!

Here you can see three of the lions at the bait -the one in front was the one darted – you can still see the dart in her.

Lions at the bait

The darting and collaring all went well – despite the very out-of-season rain which we had all night!  Brrrrr it was cold!

Rosemary working on a lioness in the rain!

Three nights later we called again, and, as I said in the last post, got a different 4 lions on the bait.  We darted a large adult lioness, and loaded her into the vehicle to work on her away from the bait site, so as not to disturb the other lions.

Rolling the lion over

Takiing blood from the lion

Once collared and measured, we reversed the drugs and closely watched the lioness as she recovered.  She was soon back to normal and joined the others at the bait, none the worse for wear.  You can see her back at the bait sporting her new collar in the photo below.

Our newly collared lioness back at the bait

So that was all pretty successful and the following day, having checked up on the collared animals and removed any signs of our work, we headed north to a different area of the park.  Due to various delays, including punctures and getting stuck in the riverbed (!), we were very late getting to our next site.  We were too late to do any preliminary investigation into where the lions were likely to be, so we decided to just set up opportunistically, try calling for an hour or two, and then give and up and try properly the following day.

But no – our luck held, and after an hour of calling we were stunned to hear the sound of lions arriving at the bait!  Crazy luck.  So having had our star gazing disturbed by the arrival of the lions (!), we put the spotlight on them and noted that the younger animal had quite a bad injury.  We darted the large one to collar her and the injured one too, to treat the injury.  Both darts hit well and both lions went down right at the bait – still trying to eat as they fell asleep!

Injured lioness

The injury had looked worse from a distance than it was – it was a largely superficial tear of skin, but we treated it with wound powder and spray and gave her a shot of antibiotics. (Note the tea-towel blind fold… we’d immobilized far more lions than I expected to even see, so we were down to scavenging for blindfolds!!)

So – a pretty successful week all in all, and the collars we fitted will help us enormously to keep track of the fortunes of these lions, and hopefully help us to figure out what is going on to keep the lion population so low.

Back soon,


Lion collaring in Gonarezhou – Part 1

Hi folks,

As most of you will know, we have been concerned for some time about the very low number of lions in Gonarezhou National Park.  We’ve been working in the park for three years now, gathering data on all the large carnivores there and last year we formally established a lion project, with the aim of  increasing the lion population in the park through mitigating the threats.

Part of the project involves monitoring the lions to look at litter sizes, cub survival, causes of adult mortality, group composition and fragmentation, as well as to allow us to react more effectively to incidences where lions come into conflict with humans.  In order to do this monitoring we need to get some collars on to the lions, so we can find them.

So we set off into the park for a week of trying to catch lions!  Here is the team packed and ready to go….

Packed to head off into the bush for the lion darting week

The collaring was a task I was not looking forward to – envisaging lots of long, cold, unproductive nights trying to call lions in without any luck.  As it turned out, we were extremely lucky and in the week we were in the park we managed to dart six lions and collar three of them (the other three were darted for veterinary disease testing or, in one case, treatment of an injury).

The first step each evening was to set up the bait and thorn-scrub screen and tie the bait tightly to the tree and/or stakes to prevent the lions running off with it.

Tying up the donkey bait

Next we set up our calling equipment – the noise of a dying buffalo calf is broadcast over speakers to attract the lions to the bait.

Setting up the call up equipment

And once everything is ready, we sit and wait…  These photos are taken on the second night of calling – in total we had four lions at the bait that night: two adult females, one adult male and one subadult male.  We use a spotlight with a red filter to avoid disturbing the animals.

Lions on the bait

Lions on the bait at night

Once we had identified a suitable individual for collaring I darted him/her and got on with the business of collaring and taking blood samples etc.

I’ll post pictures of that part of the exercise in the next post…



More from Heather and the lions

My time in Mabalauta was very exciting as I got to see my first Gonarezhou Lions. A lioness and her two 3yr old cubs, one male one female.


The cubs where extremely curious and came to us! So thanks to them for some great pictures.


I guess we got a little boring for them….


Well they are never boring to us. Hopefully we will be able to put a collar on the adult pretty soon so we can monitor them.

Cheers for now