The game drive area around the Kapamba River has always been one of the best places in the remote south of the South Luangwa National Park to find lions, with prides of up to 17 having been recorded since we opened our Bushcamps there. Over the past three seasons guests staying at Bilimungwe, Kapamba & Zungulila Bushcamps are more than likely to have come across ‘Scar-face’, the current resident male lion of the area - so called for the scar he has on his left cheek - which we think he got from a crocodile attack.
Scar-face was first seen by our guides, with his two brothers, just over 3 years ago, when the trio must have moved into the Kapamba area. Soon after, Scar-face was attacked and received the wound that gave him his ‘scar’. At the time we were all concerned that he might not survive this injury, as it became infected and was very deep, however, to our surprise and great relief, he did, the wound healed and he was fine. But, in the past couple of years Scar-face has lost both his brothers and now he alone reins over the Kapamba females. He is quite a handsome chap (despite his scar) with a nice mane and we estimate him to be around 6 years old and weigh about 200-220 kg.
Having watched the lions of the Kapamba for many years, Bilimungwe Bushcamp’s resident guide Manda, approached the Zambian Carnivore Programme (ZCP) team to ask whether they might be keen to radio-collar Scar-face. He hoped ZCP might help us find out more about the movements of the Kapamba lions - which have always been somewhat of a mystery to us - especially what they do and where they go in the rainy season. So, after discussions with all of our Bushcamp guides we approached Matt & Egil at ZCP to see whether they did indeed have a radio-collar and all the necessary equipment at the ready to try to dart and radio-collar Scar-face.
It turned out that they did have all they needed - so the only thing still to find was Scar-face himself! The guides and managers at Bilimungwe, Kapamba & Zungulila Bushcamps were asked to radio Mfuwe Lodge as soon as Scar-face was seen, but it was over a week before Fannuel found him with four females feeding on a recent kill, while on a game drive from Kapamba. On the morning of the 16th August 2011, once it had been established that the lions were not going anywhere, Egil (from ZCP) headed down to Kapamba, with Rachel (from the South Luangwa Conservation Society) and Oli (from The Bushcamp Company) hoping to try and dart and radio collar him. When they reached Kapamba Bushcamp it was siesta time so Fannuel, Brinsely (the camp manager), Andrew (the ZAWA scout) and a few of the camp staff were able to come and help and observe the whole process.
The lionesses were still by the River, where they had been seen in the morning and it was very easy from there for Fannuel & Andrew to lead Rachel, with her dart gun, to Scar-face. With a clear shot, Scar-face barely flinched at the impact of the dart and being quite a ‘big boy’ it took almost 15 minutes for the tranquilizing drugs to take effect and for him to ‘drop’. Rachel & Egil have darted many lions together before, both to fit radio collars and for de-snaring, and knew exactly what they were doing. After ensuring that the collar was fitted comfortably they proceeded to take all kinds of measurements and samples, to add to the ZCP’s database of the lion population of the Luangwa.
After an hour and a half, all the necessary data had been collected and the radio collar had been fitted and tested - it was now time to wake the sleeping lion. Scar-face was showing signs that the drugs were wearing off and so he came to his feet pretty sharpish once Rachel had administered the metabolizing drug. Within a few minutes he was up and off, soon to find a comfortable bush, near the females, to sleep off his 'hang-over'. Egil and the ZCP kept and eye on him until it got dark - to ensure that he was OK.
Despite being Zambia's largest and most important lion population very little is known about the dynamics of these animals in the Luangwa, thus collecting critical data on movements and survival of lions like Scarface aids in the conservation of these top carnivores. ZCP fitted a vhf collar that also collects gps points and should record Scar-face’s location every 23 hours - we hope that in the coming months we will be able to view maps of what he and the pride have been up to!
The Bushcamp Company were delighted to have been able to offer logistical support to the Zambian Carnivore Programme in radio collaring Scar-face. It is hoped that the information gained from his collar over the next two or three years will help ZCP in their efforts to collect data to support and advice on management plans and decisions made by the Zambian Wildlife Authority. ZCP would also like to thank WWF Netherlands and SeaWorld & Busch Gardens Conservation Fund for their support and funding.
Click here for more information on the Zambian Carnivore Programme