Here are a few pictures of Fatboy. He got his name by the fact that he was by far the fattest wild Lion we had ever seen. He had a crest of fat running down his chest and along his stomach. He was definitely not struggling for food! With the addition of the collar we were able to see just how he stayed so portly. He was using only a tiny territory above a man-made dam, where the game was forced to descend through steep gamepaths set amongst rocks in order to drink. It must have been like sitting at a sushi restaurant for him, sitting watching the food go by and deciding what he liked the look of. Food on tap with minimal effort to catch it; no wonder he was on the tubby side!
Fatboy sailed close to the wind on a few occasions, having moved in and out of Zimbabwe a few times when the Limpopo River was low. He has fathered a number of cubs, all that we know of being female. On one occasion when he had crossed the river and we feared the worst we found him again by playing calls of a buffalo calf during an annual Hyaena survey. We had been calling at different locations four hours in the bitter cold of a winter night with no sign when suddenly there was roaring so loud and so close to our vehicle that it made the car windows rattle. Scrabbling with the telemetry reciever, I tuned into his channel and it started thumping away very loudly. He was calm under the spotlight, but we could see he had a limp. A few days later I was called to check out some Lion tracks on a district road between local farms. I went out and could clearly see this was Fatboy. His tracks in the sand showed the clear limp. He had walked out onto farmland for about 15km, turned around and headed straight back home all in one night. Perhaps he sensed the danger posed by being on cattle farms. His limp improved, but his tracks were always recognisable by uneven stride length.
Despite our efforts and those of other people, Lions are lost from this population every single year, but every now and then you come across an individual that is just different, that is in some way Iconic. Fatboy was this Lion. He somehow represented the plight of the whole population and for as long as he dodged bullets, he gave us hope for them all. With Fatboy having been shot now, it is disheartening, but we must go on. It's all the more important that we carry on with the conflict mitigation, and that our Lion survey using the dogs is completed as quickly as possible so that we have the hard facts in hand to push for change to protect these cats. We can confirm that at least some of the tiny, wriggling, squeaking bundles that are Thandis newborn puppies will stay in this area and help to mitigate the conflict between people and carnivores. While today has been bittersweet for us, maybe it is fitting that we recieve this news on the same day that Thandi delivered a large part of the solution. We will not let Fatboy be forgotten, or his loss be in vain. For all the Lions in the GM-TFCA, we have a plan and we intend to make a difference.