Heather here, its been 24 days on the job and what an experience already! The tented camp in Chipinda Pools that I am living in is great. I will be honest it has taken some getting used to with all the noises, especially at night. The tree right there has hundreds of bats that make their presence known around 6.30pm and 5.30am. The hippos love the green grass outside and I hear them munching away, and then of course every now and then an Elephant crashing around in the back ground.
I spent one week in Chipinda Pools and one in Mabalauta. Thanks to Gonarezhou National Parks i got to stay in one of the chalets, I recommend them, they are great too…
That would be me waving in the shadow. Hello!
Till next time, cheers
I’m excited to be able to introduce you to a new team member. Heather Brand will be joining us from the 1st March to work on the Gonarezhou Lion Project. Heather is a Zimbabwean – in 2008 she represented Zimbabwe in the Olympic Games as a swimmer – and we are thrilled to have someone with such drive and determination working with us. (She is also an ecologist having done her degree in wildlife ecology in the States!)
Heather and I have just spent a few days in Gonarezhou for meetings etc, but we did get a chance to get out on a couple of game drives. As always, Gonarezhou never fails to provide spectacular views and stunning flora and fauna….
Once Heather starts work in March, I will conscript her to write some blogs (!) so you’ll be hearing from her – and more about the Gonarezhou Lion Project – then.
A very quick post as I’m in the middle of the bush with very limited access to email. The spoor survey we are conducting is indicating there are a LOT of lions here in Bubye Conservancy.
Here are photos of a pair of young males we bumped in to a couple of days ago – they were stalking the car!
Fantastic news guys… I have just received an email from Lin on Senuko, and all 6 pups are alive and well! Here is a lovely photo of 2 of the pups taken by Lin this morning.
Aren't they just so sweet!
Yesterday I visited the Mambira den in the south of the conservancy and changed the camera trap. Unfortunately the camera trap had been knocked by something and the photos were not very clear. We also saw fresh lion tracks leading up to the den hole, and no sign of any adults of pups (although perhaps the pups were deep inside the den, and the adults still out hunting). The previous evening, Lin Barrie (the owner of Senuko ranch), had spent some time at the den and saw all 4 adults and 6 pups (yes, we have now confirmed it is in fact 6 pups!) playing and making lots of mischief. Hopefully the dogs managed to keep away from the lion, or have simply moved dens – we’ll know more in the next day or so, but 5 weeks is a very dangerous age for wild dog pups as they start to get bold, noisy and mischievious, spending more time outside the den even when the adults are not around. Here are some great photos courtesy of Lin.
6 Mambira pups
Pup with impala ear in it's mouth
It may be no surprise to tell you that the Bedford pack have moved dens again!! This is their fourth den this year. The huge increase in the lion population seems to have really taken its toll on this pack. We hadn’t had much luck seeing either the adults or the pups at their third den, and unfortunately when we went last time it felt abandoned. When looking at the photos from the camera traps it was clear that they were visited by lions again. Tracks on the ground also confirmed this. Sadly, one of the photos clearly shows a lion with a pup in its mouth.
Lion tracks going into den hole
Lion tracks going into den hole
Lion tracks amongst wild dog tracks
Lion with pup in its mouth
Fortunately though, they didn’t move far and since finding their fourth den and putting up camera traps, I can confirm that there are still three healthy pups left. This is a big loss for the pack as they originally had thirteen pups, but fingers crossed these three remaining will make it into adulthood. They are spending a lot of time outside the den, and are extremely energetic and lively!
Three remaining Bedford pups
We also managed to collar one of this pack (the previous collared dogs split to form a new group), and this should make it easier to track the dogs should they move dens again or stop denning altogether.
Fitting Twinspot with a GPS collar
The other packs seem to have escaped the lions so far (touch wood!), this pack has just been extremely unfortunate.
Well I’ve been here just over a week, and already there’s been lots to do! We’ve visited two den sites and have been following the progress of two more groups of dogs.
When searching for the collared dogs within the Bedford pack we realised that the pack had split. It appears that both collared dogs and three of their siblings have travelled south and joined with a group of four unknown dogs. We managed to put a collar on one of the unknown dogs, so with three collars in total we should find it relatively easy to keep track of them. We can’t be sure, but we believe that the dogs from the Bedford pack are female, and the four unknown dogs are male, so hopefully they will have created another breeding pack. We’ll be keeping a close eye on them…
Unknown male (Dumbo), who has joined with some Bedford siblings, being given a GPS collar.
As Rosemary mentioned in a previous blog, the Bedford breeding pack have moved dens, and we have been monitoring them to try and count the puppies. Before they moved we counted thirteen puppies, but unfortunately since then we have only managed to count five. It could be that they were taken by the lions which were seen at their previous den, but it is likely that we don’t ever find out. The five remaining puppies, however, look healthy and full of energy!
Twinspot babysitting the Bedford puppies
No more news yet on the new female within the Bedford Bachelors, but we’ll be sure to update you if anything changes!
Once again the conflict between lions and wild dogs becomes apparent. Here is a photo of lions at the Bedford den a few days ago – the one in the foreground looks like a male and the one in the background (top left), a female. The female is peering into the den hole where the pups sleep. The dogs have not been seen since….
Two lions at the wild dog den site
Unfortunately we have not found the pack since this happened. Unless the lions killed all the pups – which is unlikely as we found no carcasses near the den – they should just have moved dens, but we cannot find their new den at the moment. The collared members of the pack rarely stay at the den and so radio tracking those individuals is not helping us. The pups are still small – assuming there are still pups left – so it would be unusual for them to have moved far away, but we haven’t had any luck finding them in the last couple of days.
Wild dog pups at their den (before the lions visited)
I hope we will find them soon, and that we will have some good news to report to you.
I’m back from the park now, having completed the spoor survey. I’ve yet to do the offical data analysis, but, as expected, we found very little evidence of lions, but plenty of sign of spotted hyena and leopards. Excitingly we did find wild dog tracks in quite a few different places, suggesting the existence of at least 3 if not 4 different packs of dogs in the park.
Here are some more photos to illustrate my last week…
If you’ve gotta do data entry, there are worse places to be I think…
Office spot on top of the Chilojo Cliffs
And likewise for somewhere to camp – not a bad view!
The park in general has some spectacular scenery…
And some interesting driving conditions too… This is us crossing the Runde River at the Madawo causeway!
And lastly there is always some interesting wildlife around…
The photo above is of the old lion I collared in October last year. He is at least 12 years old (which is OLD for a lion!), but is still doing well. Although we never saw any other lions with him, the tracks indicate there is a lioness around as well who is probably helping him hunt.
I’m now back in the conservancy, and will post an update on the wild dogs soon
I’m still in the middle of the large carnivore spoor survey in Gonarezhou National Park, but have come back to Park’s Headquarters briefly to refuel and re-fill our water containers. I thought I’d post some pics of the survey so far…
The Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority kindly lent us a vehicle (sponsored by Frankfurt Zoological Society) in which to conduct the spoor survey. The workshop folks had ingeniously constructed a seat for Rueben on the front of the vehicle, where he looks out for tracks as I drive slowly along the roads.
This has been my view from the drivers seat for most of the past week…!
We’ve seen lots of signs of large carnivores in the park – mostly spotted hyenas and leopards, although we have also seen fresh signs of wild dogs in a couple of different places. But remarkably few signs of lions, indicating there is a genuine cause for concern about this species in the park. We also see a LOT of these tracks… African civets. They seem to be very abundant in the park!
And from time to time we get to see things other than tracks! We watched this small herd of elephants mud bathing and spraying water around the place, over lunch break one day.
And finally, just before it gets dark we stop wherever we end up – or wherever we need to start the next day – and make camp….
It’s a real privilege to be able to spend so much time in such a beautiful and wild national park. Except for at the headquarters, it’s very rare to encounter another person or vehicle and the feeling of remoteness is complete. It does get lonely sometimes, but on the whole I enjoy it, and it will certainly be a nasty shock getting back to the office!
I’m off out into the park again early tomorrow morning to complete the survey, and check up on one of our collared lions. I’ll be in touch again in a week or so, when I’m back.