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