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 rolled... 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
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. 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.
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…”
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
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)
Regardless of the abrupt end to our encounter, we gathered some very useful information! We’re starting the satellite 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.
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!
By Constance Taylor (Gorongosa Lion Project)