Now the official project mascot (see the logo at the bottom of the page), Winston is by far our favourite lion.
One of the most relaxed (confident!) lions that we regularly monitor, Winston ignores us to the point of rudeness. Looks can be deceiving though, and this old tab is a ferocious brawler – hanging onto the Matombosa Pride (30 lions at last count!) with the help of just his brother, Geronimo.
This makes Winston one of the most successful (or genetically ‘fit’) lions in the Bubye Valley Conservancy, having sired more cubs than any other lion we study. Just yesterday, Pauline’s sister revealed her new litter to us, and a fortnight ago Emily’s sister brought her new cubs out of hiding.
Having cubs is one thing, keeping them alive is a whole separate issue – but a task at which Winston excels. On Saturday evening we recollared one of Winston’s male offspring who, along with his 3 brothers left the pride at the end of 2014 in search of their own territory and females to mate with, and at the moment are 30 km as-the-crow-flies from their natal territory. We are very happy to report that Mickey (above right) and his brothers are all in excellent condition – hardly surprising though, given their genes!
Article and photos: Byron du Preez
Two subadult lions from the Matombosa Pride start to get prepared for the night ahead. Lions are primarily crepuscular and nocturnal down in Zimbabwe’s lowveld, where daytime temperatures regularly exceed 40 degrees Celcius (>100 degrees Fahrenheit). Unlike us, lions don’t sweat, and so rely on panting and grooming to cool off.
Keep checking this site for cutting-edge research on lion thermal ecology which is due to be published in a high-impact scientific journal soon…
Photo copyright: Byron du Preez
Pride Male; at the aptly named ‘Shumba’ Pan
Since lions Panthera leo were re-introduced to BVC in 1999 the population has grown rapidly. Today BVC is home to approximately 20% of Zimbabwe’s lions. This is not just the largest continuous population of lion in Zimbabwe but also the densest. Due to the importance of this population for the species’ conservation, and the unique management challenges associated with a large fenced population of lion, a long-term conservation research project was established 2009.
The BVC lion research project Cruiser – kindly donated by Harris Junell
Seventeen lions were initially introduced to BVC in 1999. Ten years later, in 2009, when carnivore population surveys were initiated, the lion abundance was estimated to be at around 280 individuals. It has continued to grow. Today there are estimated to be in excess of 400 lions on BVC, which is the largest population in the country.
Black rhinos Diceros bicornis were first introduced to BVC in 2002, and the population growth rate was accelerated by continual translocations from other areas that were unable to protect their rhino populations as poaching escalated during the mid 2000’s. In the face of the renewed rhino-poaching onslaught in Zimbabwe, only the big privately owned conservancies are able to maintain positive rhino population growth rates.
Sabi; Mazunga’s bully-boy!
A Legacy of Conservation
The Bubye Valley Conservancy is one of the most amazing conservation successes of recent times. Up until the ’90s this former cattle ranching area had systematically eradicated wildlife for competing with, transmitting disease to, and preying on the livestock. However, BVC is now dedicated to conservation; and since its formation only 20 years ago, currently boasts one of the world’s largest black rhino populations, Zimbabwe’s largest lion population, and a flourishing elephant population.
The 3,740 km2 conservancy (larger than the King Ranch in Texas) is situated in the lowveld region of southern Zimbabwe. This is one of the hottest and driest areas of Zimbabwe, with summer temperatures regularly exceeding 40 degrees C. Mean annual rainfall recorded over the last 45 years is just 347 mm, and the area is therefore not suitable for agriculture. Although the annual rainfall is low, BVC represents a high nutrient ecosystem that supports large numbers of medium sized herbivores, particularly blue wildebeest and zebra, and as a result, high densities of predators can potentially be sustained.
The Bubye Valley Conservancy; the wildlife at Chamakundawa
If you would like to book with Mazunga Safaris, please contact Tracy Angelidakis, at: firstname.lastname@example.org
The Bubye Valley Conservancy and Mazunga Safaris are members of the Safari Operators Association of Zimbabwe (SOAZ)