Kruger Park lions are in the spotlight again. This time, it's what they like to eat that's the question. As part of a collaborative study between the Mammal Research Institute (MRI) of the Department of Zoology and Entomology at the University of Pretoria and the University of California at Berkeley (USA) lions are being monitored in the Satara area, to see where they are going and if they choose to eat buffalo.
Craig Tambling, PhD student from the MRI, has been keeping an eye on the lions in this region since May 2005. Part of his study has focused on investigating the diet of lions and determining what proportion is actually buffalo.
By using GPS collars, Craig is able to monitor the lion movements, locate where and what the lions have killed and where possible determine the age and sex of all buffalo consumed. Craig is following on from a previous six year study on the prevalence of bovine tuberculosis (BTB) in buffalo in the Satara region and is investigating the possible relationship between the age and sex of killed buffalo and buffalo that have BTB. This is in an attempt to determine what the risk of lions contracting BTB from buffalo is in this area of Kruger. Last week, an additional radio collar was fitted to a study lion near Satara.
With the help of KNP vets, Dr Danny Govender and Dr Peter Buss, from the veterinary wildlife services, a new collar was fitted to a lioness and an old collar, that was not longer transmitting a signal, was removed. Lion capture can be quite a lengthy affair as lions have to be lured into an open area by playing a recording of an animal in distress. Luckily for the team, the lions were close by and were soon coming in to the capture site. The vets darted three lions and set to work quickly fitting the collar and checking the lion's body condition.
While the lions were under sedation, the vets were able to take blood samples to check their health status and for DNA banking. The sleeping lions were also weighed. A small hair and ear tissue sample were taken for DNA banking. With an additional collared lion in the study area, Craig will have another lion to track and monitor, bringing more valuable insight into the private lives of Kruger lions.
By Michele Hofmeyr
In Kruger National Park