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There’s a HUGE cat on the stoep: Zim lions occupy ranger station

An old game ranger’s lodge in a remote corner of Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Park has become the new home of a pair of lions.

Mvuu the lion on the stoep of the workshop at an old ranger station in a remote corner of Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Park. Picture: Jozibanini Camp, Imvelo Safari Lodges

HARARE - A pair of lions has taken up residence at an old game ranger’s lodge in a remote corner of Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Park.

From this haunt seven-year-old lion Mvuu and his mate have been hunting mainly elephant calves weakened by drought.

One photo of Mvuu shows him lying regally on the porch of the tumble-down thatched chalet, originally built for game rangers in the early 1970s.

Another shows him fast asleep, while his mate lies under a nearby tree.

Mvuu has been paying regular visits to lap water from a birdbath in nearby Jozibanini Camp, says Mark Butcher, managing director of Imvelo Safari Lodges.

The birdbath has been a welcome water source for Mvuu and his mate, who’s known to camp staff as Ntokolotshi, Butcher says.

“He used it more when guests were not in camp and the camp was quiet,” Butcher told Eyewitness News. “Obviously, we would usually end up having to chase them out of camp when guests were there.”

The camp’s professional guide, Dean Adams, thoughtfully placed a tin bath full of water in the nearby deserted game scout camp, and Mvuu and Ntokolotshi happily moved in.

It was here that Butcher took the pictures (from the window of his Land Cruiser) of the happy couple lounging around their new abode.

“They are partially used to us in the vehicles. They generally let us approach to within about 50-70 metres, but some days they are both inclined to be grumpy and then you need to give them space,” he said.

In his youth Mvuu was classified as a “conflict cat”. After leaving his pride near Hwange’s Main Camp, around 200 kilometres away, he spent two years raiding cattle herds in farming areas outside the park.

Mvuu in August 2016.

Now it looks like he and his mate are keen to put down roots in the wilderness surrounding Jozibanini. It'll be a much safer prospect for him and his future pride: Ntokolotshi is pregnant with his cubs.

Mvuu is Shona for hippo. The lion wears a collar with a tracking device fitted four years ago by scientists from Oxford University’s Wildlife Conservation Research Unit (WildCRU). They gave him his name after they spotted him chasing a hippo.

WildCRU shot to prominence when another of its research lions, Cecil, was killed by US bow hunter Walter Palmer in 2015. Black-maned Cecil's death triggered global outrage against Palmer and trophy hunting in general.

Hwange, Zimbabwe’s biggest game park at 14,000 square kilometres, is in the arid west of the country. At this time of year it’s naturally parched, but things have been made harder for wildlife following a severe drought that has killed at least 200 of Hwange’s elephants.

Jozibanini Camp is on a private concession in the remote south-west of the park (the nearest neighbouring camp is four hours’ drive away). The place was the site of a horrific poaching incident in 2013 when poachers used cyanide to poison around 130 elephants.

Despite that tragedy, the place is now a “conservation success story” and the presence of Mvuu and Ntokolotshi is “one of the incredible things that make Jozibanini the wonderfully wild and unique place that it is”, said Butcher.

Mvuu and Ntokolotshi in August 2019.

It’s not unusual for lions to take up residence in places which have been abandoned by humans.

Butcher said he recalled lions taking over a deserted camp in Mozambique’s Gorongosa National Park in the 1970s.

The camp now occupied by Mvuu and Ntokolotshi was built more than 40 years ago by Hwange game ranger, the late Charlie Mackie.

Butcher said the game ranger would “definitely approve” of Mvuu’s decision to move in.

Mvuu the lion on the stoep of the workshop at an old ranger station in a remote corner of Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Park. Picture: Jozibanini Camp, Imvelo Safari Lodges

Mvuu on the stoep of the workshop at the old ranger station.

All images courtesy of Jozibanini Camp, Imvelo Safari Lodges.

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