Friday, May 10, 2013

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

An Encounter with Gorongosa's Proud Coalition - the Brandos!

October 20 2012
By Constance Taylor, Research Assistant

Northwest of Lake Urema we found… the Brando Coalition!  Two of Gorongosa's finest male lions.  A "coalition" refers to a group of males that band together to hunt and protect territory, while a "pride" refers to a group of females, males, and their young.

This is how the night went... we were camped in an area we hadn’t explored before when we heard four lions roaring far off in the distance, all from different directions.  We stayed put hoping one or more would come closer so we could pinpoint their location- sure enough, around 3 am we woke up to roaring nearly right in our ears! We hopped in the truck, took off in the direction it was coming from, and less then half a kilometer away we saw a male lion… with another male trailing right behind.

Images from the thermal camera (photos by Jeff Reed)
We slowly drove behind as they moved, alternately resting then walking every few minutes.

As the sun came up and we got a better look at them, Jeff Trollip (Park guide and Gorongosa Lion Project tracker) said he suspected they were the Brando Brothers coalition.  This was indeed confirmed later back at camp- whisker spots, scars, coloration, and missing teeth were all were carefully compared to the ID database we are growing over time.

We’re hoping to collar one of the Brando brothers and track their movements and relationships over the next few years.

Brando Senior  (photo by Jeff Reed)

Brando Junior (photo by Jeff Reed)

As we moved along behind the Brandos, Trollip spotted something past the drainage line. “Hm, what’s that, a reedbuck?” he muttered, focusing his binoculars. Pause. “No way- it’s another lion! A lioness! The brothers don’t see her yet…”

Lioness (photo by Jeff Reed)

We all watched, mouths agape, as the Brandos crossed the drainage line and froze. “They just caught her scent!” Trollip whispered.

Lioness seen running away (photo by Jeff Reed)

As the first brother walked to the top of the drainage lip, the lioness saw him, turned, and started trotting away from him. We started the truck up to follow and started driving forward when…wait, what's that flopping sound?

Trollip stuck his head out the driver’s side window. “Flat tire,” he hissed. This was our second flat since leaving Chitengo so we'd already used the spare- there was no way to cross the steep ditch without seriously damaging something on the truck.

We looked across the drainage and the lioness had broken into a flat-out run with both brothers in pursuit. All we had so far were a few blurry shots of her, certainly not enough to make a positive ID. Was she a lioness we already knew, or one we hadn’t seen? There was a collective groan of frustration as we watched all three lions sprint out of sight.

 Brando Sr (left) and Brando Jr (right) (photo by Jeff Reed)

Regardless of the abrupt end to our encounter, we gathered some very useful information! We’re starting the radio collaring operation this week, and the fact that we heard four lions and saw three in this area means it’s a good place to start looking once Rui Branco, our vet, arrives.

Brando Senior

We’ll be able to start gathering data on where the lions are traveling almost as soon as the collars are on them - the satellite collars log 8 positions each day.  These data will give us invaluable insight concerning their general territories.  We're also hoping the collared lions will lead us to other lions so we can gain more insight into pride structure, reproduction and sources of mortality over time.  It also means more stories and pictures to post…

Future encounters pending!

Photo by Jeff Reed

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Gorongosa Behind the Scenes - Wildlife Portraits

By Constance Taylor, Research Assistant

Here are some pictures from the remote, action-triggered cams we've been placing around the water holes.  And when we say waterhole we really mean "pan", or an isolated body of water, to be more specific.

It's the peak of the dry season here in Central Mozambique and we're putting up these cams at pans because they're some of the last remaining water sources, and we suspect most animals come here at some point in the day to drink.  Because it's a hotspot of animal activity, we're really hoping to get footage of lions and mesopredators in the area.

So far only one sighting of a lion on the cams, but we've found Gorongosa's 1st photographically documented hyaena in decades and lots of other neat stuff!

We've sifted through thousands upon thousands of photos so far, and we have cams out in the park right now clicking away and recording even more pictures for us to look through. The following images are what we thought were the best shots of the wildlife around the pans so far.


Gorongosa's first photo-documented Spotted hyaena since the 1970's!

Two photos of the same lion

Civet scavenging a bushbuck carcass

This picture is actually not at a pan- we also put cams on fresher carcasses we find in the field to see what animals are scavenging them.  We suspect this bushbuck died of heatstroke of some sort; it was the day after a scorcher when we came across this bushbuck and a few other animals that had no visible physical trauma (i.e. lion attack, etc).  Like we mentioned above, it's the peak of the dry season here and that means some animals just don't make it through.

On a lighter note...

Bushpig family portrait!

Bushpigs leaving the waterhole. They're not terribly common around Gorongosa...

Unlike the warthogs, which are everywhere.

It gets busy at night... a crowd of female Impala drink up.

Two young male Kudu visit the pan

Four older male Nyala... not a common sight!

Female Nyala and young.

Baby time! A Yellow baboon carries her very young offspring around the pan. As the baby gets older it will graduate to riding around on mom's back...

like this one!

A sable walks with it's long-legged offspring.

Two male Hartebeest

Helmeted Guinea Fowl

A Fish eagle comes in for a landing!

Buffalo, post pan-wallow.

Two porcupines! A relatively common sight at night, but nowhere to be found during the day.

One of our more creative camera setups.  We usually try to tie them on trees, but when there aren't any around we have to get artistic!  The thorny acacia branches around the bottom of the stake are to discourage warthogs rubbing against (and knocking down) the whole assembly.


Stay tuned for more on lions to come soon!

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Dawn Lions

By Constance Taylor, Research Assistant

Exciting news! Since the last post we’ve documented four lions-

Tripod (the three-footed lioness) on September 19,

two unidentified lionesses on September 20, one appears to be pregnant/lactating (we suspect these lionesses are the Baobab Pride) 

and one of the Sungue brothers on September 22.

We’re on lion time right now, which means we’ve been waking up at 3am to be out on the floodplain which is a favored hunting ground for them- we saw the two lionesses and the male in this area.

The past four days we've contiuned scouting and deploying remote cams, we also visited a remote scout outpost to follow up on a lion report.  More to come on all of this soon!  

We have also scaught glimpses of…

Sable grazing in front of Baobab trees, the quintessential Gorongosa bush scene.

Gorongosa’s herd of Wildebeest… a rare sight!

A Waterbuck looking ghostly in the early morning fog

A flock of White-backed Vultures we went over to investigate, since they were near where we saw the male lion the other day.

And what do you know, we found the fairly fresh remains of a Reedbuck! 

We suspect a lion preyed upon it because of the way the bones had been chewed upon and scattered around, but it’s hard to tell for certain unless you actually witness it or there’s fresh lion scat around.

On one particularly hot day we encountered a freshly dead Reedback that we focused two remote cameras on in the event the lionesses we encountered a few days ago decide to visit the carcass - tomorrow we'll check it out!

We’re also mapping remaining water holes- this is one that has big catfish (about 1.5-2 ft long) swimming around in it! You can see it’s very muddy, and it’s also very shallow. The lumps in the water are the backs of the catfish sticking up from the surface; it’s amazing that these large fish are able to survive in such a small amount of water.

In addition to all our field work, we took a trip down to Gorongosa’s Community Education Center (CEC), where a Paola gave an impromptu presentation to a group of American high-school girls who happened to be visiting that day and were eager to learn more about the project. 

After Paola’s talk, Cesar (one of the trainers for the anti-poaching patrol) gave us all a demonstration of how wire snares are set and how they capture animals.

So far this year, the anti-poaching patrols have removed over 1,000 wire snares from Gorongosa’s park lands. The snares catch anything that steps in them, including elephant, buffalo, and lion, even though the primary targets are the ungulates that people eat. Many of the poachers are simply people from the area who are very poor and hunt on park land to get meat. It’s a complex issue, and the one of the main roles of GNP's Community Education Center is to work with local communities to try and find solutions to poaching, hunger, and poverty.

Right now there’s a very thorough anti-poaching training program underway at the CEC that we'll be filming tomorrow to help share what's happening to recover Gorongosa's lions and other megafauna. It’s two weeks of workshops for the Gorongosa scouts covering everything from physical fitness to community relations. We’ll be taking lots of footage!

Tomorrow we resume our 4AM field days in search of Panthera leo.  We’ll let you know what we find!

Until next time, the vervet monkeys around camp say hello…

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Back to Gorongosa!

By Constance Taylor, Research Assistant.

Projecto Leões da Gorongosa has just returned to Gorongosa National Park to continue where we left off earlier this year!  Our field team for the next two months is Paola (Senior Researcher), Constance (Research Assistant, and your tour guide for this particular blog), and Jeff (Filmmaker) and Park scientific and conservation staff - we'll be sure to introduce everyone over the weeks to come. We arrive as spring begins here south of the Equator, and the peak of the dry and wildfire season.

Paola, Constance, and Jeff

Having been in camp just 3 days a lot of our time has been spent setting up camp, meeting with senior staff and organizing gear and establishing safety protocols.  Field work will soon ramp up - so we'll be sharing news and discoveries as they come!

Here's a short photo diary of the last three days, from our supply stop in Beira to our first three days at Gorongosa...

Beira! Our first stop before driving to Gorongosa. This Coke bottle roundabout was one of our main navigation points for the day we were there gathering supplies- a helpful landmark!

When not searching for the Coke bottle to light our way back to the hotel, we navigated the 
bustling streets of Beira.

This is generally the view of the mostly rural landscape on the four hour drive to Gorongosa…

With the occasional street-side market.

And the white-knuckle encounters with semis roaring by on the one-lane main road.

After 22 hours flying across the globe, a night in Beira, and a four hour drive, here we finally are at the main gate to the Gorongosa National Park! Just in time for the gorgeous sunset.

The first wildlife to be seen after entering the park gate: Sables with a number of young ones in tow!

Some warthogs making themselves at home by the guest pool/lounging area at Chitengo, the main camp.

Jeff and Constance settling into camp and setting up the kitchen tent. At the fledgling research center at Chitengo (slated to be the new E.O. Wilson Research Center in 2013) we live in canvas tents, but complete with electricity & internet.. Shown here is an extra tent we brought with us that now serves as our food storage tent- we stocked up in Beira on non-perishables since the nearest grocery store is about three hours away. Yes, we have lots of rice and peanut butter. We'll be purchasing veggies from Vinho, the closest village ~1-mile from camp.

Our 1st morning in the yellow baboons made their appearance… at least forty of them! Tiny babies to full-grown adults, eyeing our food and waiting for us to drop our guard.

They’re all very skittish around people, running away when we make even slight moves toward them.  This is a very good thing seeing as we’re heavily outnumbered and none of us want to start our days here squaring off with baboons.

September 16 is our first full day in the Park, and we spend it driving very, very slowly around the park looking for signs of Tripod (the three-legged lioness) and other resident lions.  Gorongosa guides spotted Tripod earlier this morning, and just the day before had witnessed a young sub-adult female lion successfully stalk and kill an Oribi (a small ungulate) on the floodplain at 3 in the afternoon. 

It’s the dry season and much of the wildlife congregates around waterholes this time of year, so part of our daily work is to document and map waterholes to better understand wildlife movement.  No lions here, yet.  But we saw many other animals drinking up…

Warthog (far left), Yellow Baboon (second to left), Waterbuck (large ungulate in foreground with the white target pattern on its rear), and female Nyalas (smaller fawn-colored ungulates on the right with white stripes). 

The Musicadzi River is mostly dry and the crocs are hibernating while isolated pools serve as wallows (background) for giant catfish.  Here, four Marabou storks waiting for fish scraps from the Fish eagle (black and white bird in foreground, catfish at it’s feet)

At sunset, we sit and wait on the edge of the floodplain waiting to see or hear lions as they emerge from their slumber for the day.  Jeff begins experimenting with the thermal camera as night falls - pics to come soon!  We hear lions call in the far- far-distance.

Today (as I write this) is our second day in camp taking care of logistics, vehicles and field plans.  We'll be back out in the wilds of Gorongosa National Park tracking lions starting tomorrow!

We’ll keep posting.

Until then,
The Gorongosa Lion Project Team