Tag Archives: Gonarezhou National Park

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

Rueben

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,

Rosemary

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,

Rosemary

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…

Cheers,

Rosemary

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.

DSC_1743

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

DSC_1760

I guess we got a little boring for them….

DSC_1758

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

Heather

Gonarezhou Lion Project

Hi folks,

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

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….

IMG_2749

IMG_2730

IMG_2727

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.

Back soon,

Rosemary

Wild dogs in Gonarezhou National Park

Hi folks,

I’ve recently come back from 10 days in Gonarezhou, where I was conducting a large carnivore call-up survey, in collaboration with the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority and Frankfurt Zoological Society.  I’ll tell you all about this in a later post, but during the time we were doing this work – focussed mainly on lions and hyenas – we also made significant progress with our understanding of the wild dog population in this large, remote wilderness area.

We were already aware of the existence of a pack in the very south of the park, and thanks to the exceptional tracking skills of Rueben, and a Parks scout Julius, they managed to locate the den of this pack.  This was extremely exciting, and is (to our knowledge) the first time anyone has located a wild dog den inside the park.  The den is about 3km off the nearest road, over ridges and through rivers and its find is a real credit to Rueben and Julius.  We have put some camera traps at the den, and I will post photos from them once I have been back to change the batteries.  In the meantime, we know there are at least 6 adults and 7 pups, although I think the pack is larger than that.

The den site of the Mabalauta Pack

The den site of the Mabalauta Pack

Just as excitingly, we also found evidence of another successfully breeding pack in a totally unexpected area of the park, where we have never seen any evidence of wild dogs before.  We saw one wild dog one night (when we were doing the calls for lions), and the next day followed the tracks and came across an area with plenty of old and fresh adult and puppy tracks suggesting a recent den in the area.

Rosemary & Rueben looking at tracks by a water pan we came across

Rosemary & Rueben looking at tracks by a water pan we came across

As you can see from the photo below however, the long grass in the area hampered tracking efforts, and we never found the den, but Rueben estimates about 10 adults and 8 pups from the tracks, which is fantastic.

Long grass in the area of the Chitanga Pack den

Long grass in the area of the Chitanga Pack den

This was all very encouraging, and suggests Gonarezhou may in fact be an important conservation unit for the wild dogs.

Rosemary

Gonarezhou Predator Survey – Part 2

Hi folks,

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

Office spot on top of the Chilojo Cliffs

And likewise for somewhere to camp – not a bad view!

Camping spot

Camping spot

The park in general has some spectacular scenery…

Kundani hill

causeway at sunset

Chilojo cliffs from top view point

And some interesting driving conditions too… This is us crossing the Runde River at the Madawo causeway!

driving through the causeway

And lastly there is always some interesting wildlife around…

Porcupine

Madara

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

Gonarezhou Predator Survey – Part 1

Hi folks,

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.

whole car plus rueben tracking

This has been my view from the drivers seat for most of the past week…!

rueben through windscreen

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!

civet tracks

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.

eles at gorwhe

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….

ro's tent

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.

Rosemary

Wild Dogs in Zimbabwe’s lowveld

Hi folks,

I realise I haven’t actually posted much about wild dogs recently.  This is by no means because there is nothing to report – I’ve just chosen to tell you about a few other things we’ve been up to recently instead.  (When you work in conservation in a place with such critical conservation needs as Zimbabwe and with so few people on the ground, you are bound to get involved in other conservation efforts from time to time).

Anyway, I just wanted to give you an update on the state of the wild dog population here in Zimbabwe’s lowveld.  Excitingly, evidence we found during the recent field trip to Gonarezhou National Park suggests there are more wild dogs there than previously thought, and the packs seem to be breeding well.  On one occasion we actually saw at least 10 pups, and in another area we saw tracks of a large pack with numerous adults and pups.

Ten of the big Bedford pups

The wild dog population in the Save Valley Conservancy remains strong, and all packs are doing well.  Both the Teddy Pack and the new Raf pack lost their litter of pups to lions this year, but the survival of other litters has been good.  The Star Pack are all still present and correct – 6 adults and 8 pups, as is the Maera pack – 8 adults and 3 pups.  Our super-pack, the Bedford pack, numbers 42 individuals now – 24 adults and 18 pups!  The last sighting of the Mapari pack was only of 18 dogs – there should be 20 if all have survived – but there may have been more in the bushes!

Some individuals of the Maera pack, including the 3 pups

Some of the Maera pack

As for the south of the conservancy, there is certainly a lot more wild dog activity down there than we have seen for the past couple of years, which is extremely encouraging.  The new pack of three dogs I wrote about in an earlier post is by all accounts doing well – Rueben has named them the Delta Pack.  And our de-snared male Willy Wonka and his Mrs (Mavericks pack) have now got three pups, which is excellent news.  There was no breeding in the south of the conservancy last year, which was a big concern, so even a small litter is a positive sign of population recovery.  It is possible there is another pack of five dogs in the south as well – maybe a pack we know as the Impala pack, but we aren’t yet sure about that.

Delta dogs!

Wild dogs of the Delta Pack

So, minimum (known) number of wild dogs in the conservancy now totals 105 individuals (64 adults and 41 pups), in eight different packs.  We do suspect there are maybe one or two additional packs as well.

In Gonarezhou National Park, there are at least 36 individuals in at least 2 separate packs, but I would not be surprised if there were 50 or more – we just need to do some more work in the area to confirm.

Malilangwe Trust, a private wildlife area situated between the Save Valley Conservancy and Gonarezhou National Park, also has wild dogs.  They currently have only one pack which numbers about 19 individuals. They used to have over 40 dogs in three packs, but these were unfortunately wiped out by rabies in 2007…

Unfortunately, most other areas in the south-east lowveld of Zimbabwe that used to support wild dogs no longer do, after having been re-settled during Zimbabwe’s fast-track land reform program.  One exception is Bubye River Conservancy which apparently hosts between 20 and 40 dogs.  Occasionally, there are (reliable) reports of wild dogs seen outside of any protected area, which is encouraging for dispersal and increasing genetic variation within the overall population.

Anyway, I just wanted to give you a summary of the situation here in terms of wild dog numbers.  Key protected areas are still supporting reasonable populations, but the story in much of the remaining landscape is bleak.  Snaring remains a constant threat to the dogs, both within and outside protected areas, as does rabies and other diseases which can be spread from domestic dogs.  However, increased anti poaching efforts in SVC and Gonarezhou should start to make a noticeable difference and efforts are being made by the Tikki Hywood Trust and AWARE Trust to vaccinate domestic dogs for rabies, which will also help to reduce that threat.

Anyhow, I will be taking some time off from tomorrow until the 13th November, so this blog will be quiet for the next couple of weeks.  Unfortunately I don’t have anyone who can keep it updated while I am away, but I promise I’ll get back to you all as soon as I get back.

Rosemary

One lion, several hyenas and LOTS of wild dogs!

Hi folks,

I’m back briefly from the first phase of field work in Gonarezhou National Park.  We just spent 12 days working in the south of the park, attempting to find and collar lions (to test for TB), and hoping that we may be lucky enough to find some wild dogs.  We were not specifically looking for hyenas, but got to see lots of them too!!

Our approach with the lions was to look for fresh tracks along the roads, follow the spoor for a while until we could guess where the lions might be resting up, and then that night go and play lion-attracting noises on loud speakers, along with setting up a bait, to try to lure the lions within darting range… The first night we tried we attracted a hyena, a civet and a large herd of elephants who were not best pleased by the noises of squealing pigs and dying buffalos, so we had to abort our efforts rather abruptly!

Lion tracks

The following night, we had only been calling for about 15 minutes when a beautiful lioness stalked up.  Unfortunately she came over to my vehicle which was playing the sound, rather than over to the bait where the vets were waiting to dart her!  Eventually she got the idea and went towards the bait, but by this time a large clan of hyenas had been attracted to the bait and did a very thorough job of keeping her away!  Even had we had an opportunity to dart her, we could not have done so with so many hyeanas around, as they may have attacked her once she was too drugged to defend herself and before we could get to her.  So we contented ourselves with observing the interactions for a while and then packed everything up and left them in peace.

We didnt get many other opportunities to dart lions there – although we will be continuing to try over the next week or so – but did manage to track and find a pack of wild dogs which was MOST exciting!  We found fresh spoor early one morning and followed it for a few hours until we came across where the dogs were resting.  Unfortunately, as wild dogs tend to do (!), they saw and smelt us before we had a good look at them and bounded off.  Nonetheless, from the tracks and the number we actually saw, it seems to be a good sized pack – at least 15 adults and 10 pups.  It was also the first pack of dogs I have seen in the park and was thus doubly as exciting! 

Anyway, I’ll be heading back into the park on Sunday for another week or so, to continue to look for both lions and wild dogs and will post again when I’m back.  Hopefully I’ll have some more exciting pictures to show you then!

Rosemary