Crocodiles are the the most fearsome predator in the Okavango Waterways. They have been known to kill lions and other species that attempt to cross- even influencing their movements. When the rivers are high and crossings are few, could crocodile decoys deter lions from crossing the river at their favorite spots? We will attempt to find out! We will review lion movement data from the satellite tracking collars to determine whether there are routine crossing points, then deploy these life-like crocodile decoys to assess the reactions of lions, cattle and other species.
Another day in the field. Keep tabs on all of the latest developments right here!
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!
"Is this the pride we've heard so much about?"
"How many cubs do you count?" "one, two... I've got 6! The future is looking good if they can hold on".
That was August 2015, when we started our lion collaring operation. This pride became our top priority and they had been quite a challenge to track down. With two adult females and one adult male, this pride was overrun with cubs. This pulse of cubs was the response of these females to the retaliatory killing of the previous year- when nearly 60% of the lions were killed through poison and shooting by villagers that had lost significant numbers of livestock.
The Pride females were later named Mayenga (Decorated by the Gods) and Mamalapo (Lady of the Floodplains) by the community. Mayenga was collared so that we could monitor their joint-parenting skills. We knew that even under the best of circumstances lions can lose 50% of their cubs before adulthood, so when we caught up with Mayenga and Mamalapo in early 2016 it was not surprising to see that their litters were reduced to only 2 female. Though it was unfortunate to lose 2/3 of these cubs, these two addition females represented a doubling of the pride!
Recently our team collared a large male lion named Gombo (Gombo is the name for the region of his territory) who happened to be mating with one of these subadult cubs on January 22nd. As you can see from the photos she still has pronounced spots on her legs and belly. Lions reach sexual maturity around 2.5 years old and only typically begin mating with any success after 3. This subadult is likely approaching 2.5 and seems eager to contribute to an already bursting lion population. With no recorded lions mortalities in 2016 and 5 other females giving birth to at least 13 cubs, we suspect that our population is on pace for a dramatic rise.
We are grateful to our partner communities who have asked about Mayenga and her cubs over the years and shown commitment to protecting lions while facing the costs.
It seems that our first cubs are all grown up!