The text came in late at night- "MORTALITY EVENT DETECTED ON COLLAR 19368"- that's Mutlawankanda! The activity sensor in the collar had not been triggered in 24 hours generating a "Mortality Notification". Our field team took the coordinates for the last GPS fix and found the evidence of his final moments. They found areas of grass pressed down with pools of blood leading to another resting spot and more blood. Eventually they found him with a single bullet hole that penetrated his lungs. Mutlawankanda signifies the first lion killed in over 18 months and the first collared animal killed during our study.
He was a key individual, initially presiding over a pride with two females and six young cubs. In the 20 months of tracking, we've seen Mutlawankanda pushed north (by our newly collared male Gombo). He then developed a partnership with Nduraghombo and likely sired Maleherehere's new cubs. Now these cubs are in jeopardy as Nduraghumbo will have to defend his territory alone.
The lions, however, are only half the story. In the last 6 months, the communities have absorbed over 80 cattle deaths from lion attacks. To many of these subsistence cattle owners a single loss can be devastating. Frustrations are high. Villagers have started carrying guns and following lion tracks- leading to attack report in our previous blogpost. So, it is not surprising that lions were in the hotseat. Lion populations are growing steadily in our area putting stress on the tenuous relationship between villagers and the big cats.
With all these conflicts, what do we do? Well, we have learned a few things about lion conflicts. First, most of them occur away from the village in the floodplains when cattle are roaming without a herder. Lions encounter these herds when following zebra and find the cattle to be easy prey. Therefore, we are developing our training program based on traditional herding practices. We will discuss the importance of responsible herding in promoting livestock health, rangeland management to encourage healthy ecosystems and predator conflict mitigation.
We hope that our community partnerships and herder training will mitigate the conflicts at the core of these challenges!