A bunch of tree huggers

7 02 2012

Yesterday (6th) was a day of rest for the pride. Everyone was in Kariba sleeping off the weekend’s large meal. Leya, Rusha and Zulu were still showing some amount of interest in the new resident at the breeding program, but this seems to be becoming less and less as time passes. In between bouts of vigilance, Leya showed off the pride’s new favourite activity – tree scratching. And to prove how good she is at it, every time she shifted into a new spot of shade away from the midday sun another tree came in for a comprehensive shredding.

This morning we found them milling about on the road bordering Chisamu. The day started off with the now obligatory tree scratch before resettling just off the main road. Zulu built hopes up for some activity when he marched off down the road to the north. As he disappeared out of sight, we decided to see where he was heading only to find him barely 10 metres further down the road, just around the next corner.

As the morning passed, the girls were playing some sort of relay shuffle race. First it looked like Loma and Leya were going to initiate a move, and Kela and Kwandi quickly responded by jumping to their feet and following – before all settled down 10 metres later in a row again. After a few minutes of rest, Kwandi then decided it was her turn and moved off a risky 15 or 20 metres with all six girls this time responding, before once again sitting down.

By this point Zulu, while no more than 30 metres away, was out of view. We listened to his pitiful cries as he realised he’d been abandoned. But it was only a short time before he stumbled through a bush and practically tripped over the others.

Returning to them at mid-morning we found they’d walked the length of the site and were once more in Kariba. This time not even the lure of a new tree to shred could rouse any of them.


Who the &*#! is that?

4 02 2012

Since the appearance of a certain rather large wild male lion at the Dambwa enclosures (see statement released 31st January) the pride’s time has been consumed guarding the closest boundary of their territory to worry about anything else.  After seven days of vigilance the pride has decided that their borders are secure and went about their normal business.

Friday (3rd) found everyone up and around on Tsavo milling around a carcass. We first came across Rusha, Leya, Loma and Zulu. The others weren’t far according to their signals’ strengths but certainly weren’t within sight. As we pulled up we could see Rusha and Leya were feeding from the now rather rotten remains, while Zulu was chasing Loma around. As we were to learn as the afternoon went on, Zulu had stashed a large amount of the meat in a nearby bush which he was jealously guarding.

Loma had strayed a little too close – but it wouldn’t be the last time she gave it a try.

Within a few minutes Kwandi came plodding through the grass to join the group. With an already full belly she didn’t seem too interested in eating but had a nose through the stinking scraps before sitting down.

Rusha then headed off in the direction from which Kwandi arrived and we followed her suspecting she may be able to lead us to Kela and Temi, which she did as they rested under a tree a couple of hundred metres away from the scavenge site.

The rest of the afternoon was categorised by Kwandi’s group trying to eat and Zulu policing the entire affair. At one point he sensed an attack was mounting on his stockpile and lunged out at a sleeping and completely innocent Kwandi, only to miss Loma running off with some of his stash. Having made such a nuisance of himself, Loma led her sister and Kwandi away from the tyrant and slumped down for some rest.

Having chased off all competition for the remaining food, Zulu suddenly realised he was alone and we could hear his pitiful cries as he tried to locate the girls shortly before he came into view with his nose to the ground sniffing them out. Sitting on Loma’s head once he found them, Leya then sensed her opportunity and made a dash back to the food . Kwandi and then Loma followed, but of course they were soon back under the watchful eye of Zulu.

This morning (4th), Kela was alone resting in the road between Kariba and Sibaka. A short search found everyone else except Temi resting in some bushes near water pan 2.

As the group shifted around and had a morning stretch they eventually settled in yet another bush. A rustle in the tall grass soon woke everyone back up though – all eyes flew open, perhaps still nervous about their new neighbour.  But it was just Temi, who zeroed straight in on Zulu for a head rub before settling in amongst the group.

On the move

25 01 2012

The morning of the 18th was a peaceful one for the lions with hardly an eyelid batted all morning. The only activity came when, as the morning began to heat up, one by one they moved into the shade.

Mid-morning was an entirely different matter however. We found them crossing the dry river bed in Puku Dambo and heading south. Pausing to scan the area for several minutes Temi and Kela chose to remain in place at the edge of the river bed while Rusha led the others on to the main road and into Chobe. They seemed alert in their approach as they neared the Sanga boundary but we never quite were able to work out if they were hunting or just hoping to bump into something. Mid-way across Chobe Kela and Temi showed up some quarter of an hour after we had left them and Rusha led everyone into the boundary.

We soon lost sight of most of them, except for Zulu who had sat down about 15 meters inside the treeline and began gnawing on what we can only presume was an old kill (unless he’d managed to make a kill in the 30 seconds or so it had taken for us to move the vehicle closer). We sat and listened for best part of 20 minutes as he crunched on bones and watched the top of his mane wobble around in the grass. The girls’ signals gradually grew weaker and weaker.

At just past midday he discarded whatever rotting bit of animal he’d snacked on and set off west through the boundary to track the girls. We hoped we’d be able to pick him out until he hooked up with them, but after 50 or so metres we lost sight of him too, and watched as his signal joined the girls in that place referred to as “somewhere in there”.

By the 21st they had re-emerged and were resting by waterpan 1. Their resting was punctuated by sudden bursts of mass grooming, or social interactions but they remained relatively sedate until the end of the day when Kela suddenly bolted upright  and immediately marched off with everyone following suit to the other side of Kariba.

Yesterday morning (24th) we came across them walking along the road between Kulibe and Chisamu. An abrupt turn across Chisamu led them West into Chobe. We were able to pick them out from time to time, but didn’t get a proper sighting again until we came across Kela, Leya and Temi in western Chobe as Zulu continued to lead the other four girls into Sibaka. Remaining with the trio we waited to see if they’d join the others, but they seemed quite happy where they were thank you very much.

Kwandi, Rusha, Loma and Zulu were sprawled across the road in Sibaka. With the two groups not too far away from one another, it wasn’t much of a surprise to find that later on in the morning they had all met up and were back in one of their favourite spots in Kariba.


A different type of prey…

17 01 2012

The pride was at water pan 3 this morning (17th) in lazy but fairly social form. Except for Rusha who wasn’t quite feeling the love when she bared her teeth at Zulu, who was looking for a new spot to sit and decided on top of Rusha would be best.

As the first hour of observation passed a steady rumbling approached from the west. As it grew louder, all the lions started awake and as a helicopter flew over the site and right over their location they all leapt to their feet. Most reacted with a mixture of panic and utter terror, as one would expect. But there was one fearless young lady who decided to take on this noisy bird. Rusha sprang to her feet as it approached, dropped to a crouching stalk as it roared over head and then gave chase for well over 100m! Bolstered by her bravery, Kwandi and Temi followed; but unsurprisingly the trio shortly returned to the others – minus a whirly bird breakfast.

By mid-morning the lions were after something a little more traditional. They were making their way through Kariba when a herd of impala caught Temi’s attention. The grass reaching above her head it’s a wonder she ever saw them. As the rest of the pride continued west she stood stock still until Zulu also became of aware that something of interest was nearby. Temi glided towards them at first closing just 30m of the original 150m gap. One by one the rest of the pride cottoned on, and moved into a line to the right of Temi.

With the trap set and the impala still oblivious Temi crept to the left of the herd. We lost visual of her pretty soon after that as she vanished in the grass. A few minutes later we caught a brief glimpse of her as she poked her head above cover to check her postion – then disappeared again. We were waiting, the rest of the pride were waiting – but we never saw Temi; until a warning snort sounded from the herd and they fled in several directions. The ambush rose from their positions and began to advance towards a thicket a number of the herd had taken refuge in; Zulu on the left the girls along the back and the right. Loma managed to single one out who’d got split off from the rest of the herd after the panic caused by Temi’s initial charge, but she couldn’t get any closer than 20m.

Despite a thrilling half hour, the lions’ efforts were in vain and the impala managed to escape. Once it was clear they weren’t getting lunch Rusha led the pride on a move to the other side of Kariba before plonking themselves in the shade of a tree – to wait for the next opportunity.

Work, rest and then… more rest

15 01 2012

The 14th was a busy afternoon for the lions – not that you would have known it at first. Originally, the entire pride was resting near pan 1, so we took the opportunity while they were sleeping to check the water levels at the other pans.

On our way back to the pride we saw a very nervous looking female waterbuck scampering into the Acacia treeline. Minutes later a handful of impala were rushing towards the main road. Of course the lions would wait until we were elsewhere to do something.

As we neared their original location we caught a brief flash of three lionesses trotting towards the boundary. Rusha, Loma and Zulu were standing, watching the trio and Leya emerged a few minutes later from the direction we had found them earlier. One by one they followed in the wake of Temi, Kela and Kwandi.

For the better part of the next hour we crept along the tree line, every once in a while catching a sighting of the procession of lions as they made their way East along the boundary. Finally, Temi led them out onto Bwizu, followed by Rusha, then Kwandi, Kela, Loma, Leya and (bringing up the rear as usual) Zulu.

But our visual of them was short lived as after having a quick drink at pan 2 Temi, Kwandi, Leya, Kela and Rusha stalked back into the tree line. We never saw whether it was impala, puku, waterbuck or the wind they were stalking but thankfully everyone regrouped towards the border of Sahara for 20 minutes before we left for the day.

By this morning (15th) we tracked them down just as they were crossing the road between Chisamu and Tsavo. The weather was cool and breezy and hopes were high for a bit of activity.

After everyone had a good scratch at a tree it looked for a moment as though Leya was going to continue the move. But after everyone had mauled the scratching post they all flopped down into the tall grass.

If anything by mid-morning the wind had picked up even more and the lions had moved the length of the site and we found them after breakfast at pan 1. They all seemed fairly alert to something with the girls scanning the area and Zulu sniffing the breeze.

But whatever it was, after a bit of milling around and a couple of head rubs it was time to recover their energy and… go back to sleep.


Is there anyone there?

13 01 2012

It’s been a little bit tricky in Dambwa lately. The rains have revived the site after the scorching it received over the last few months – but it’s not doing an awful lot for visibility levels, with this being the normal view of the lions these days…

Still, the lions do from time to time prove to us that they have legs and it’s an actual relief when they amble out of the vegetation and onto the roads these days.

On the 4th January Kela and Zulu had split away from everyone else and were resting in Kariba whilst the remainders of the pride were up and about on Tsavo. Leya led that group across the area and to one of their favourite thickets in Sahara which we actually hadn’t seen them in for some time. What they were doing in there was anyone’s guess though.

A few days later and by the 7th everyone had hooked up and were hanging out just off the Lusaka road around the boundary of Chisamu and Chobe. Unfortunately this is one of the densest areas of the site and all we could see most of the time was ears flicking amongst the bushes.

This morning thankfully they were in a slightly more visible location between Chisamu and Kulibe. After a brief 20 minutes of observation they soon moved back into the tall grass and bushes to find some shade – and that was that. Until this afternoon when the pride caught an impala! Between us leaving them this morning and this afternoon they had shifted to Kariba and just before 1600h the pride went a-hunting and decided it was time to catch some afternoon tea.

The Dambwa pride enter 2012 as a close-knit pride

5 01 2012

The 30th found the pride in two separate groups pretty much for the first time since Zulu’s inclusion to pride – perhaps the novelty of their new toy has worn off for some of the girls already. Kela and Leya were busy resting in Kariba while the rest of the pride was further up in Sibaka.

We’d already started the morning’s activity budget when around 30 white-backed vultures perched themselves about 80m away in the Sanga treeline. Unable to leave the lions until the hour was up we could only speculate as to what was over there to attract their attention – the lions certainly didn’t look like they’d fed on anything much since we’d last seen them. A light drizzle began to fall, barely heavy enough to bother the lions, but the vultures didn’t seem too pleased and hunched over themselves on their perches.

With the lions in full resting mode, the birds were actually proving more worthy of observation as they shuffled around the branches to dry their wings in the sun once the rain had stopped.

Later that morning Kela and Leya had joined the rest of the pride and as the sun grew stronger after the morning’s light shower all seven tried to cram themselves into the smallest patch of shade available, despite their being plenty of other trees and shelter around. Zulu couldn’t quite cram himself in.

By the next day, the pride were clearly excited about New Year’s and were marching up the boundary road led by the K sisters towards water pan 3. With the lions all in sight, we decided to leave them a little something to celebrate the new year and while we watched them a second vehicle entered the site to drop them a scavenge in a different area of the site.

After a while, Zulu led his girls back towards water pan 1 and it was during the move that Kwandi suddenly began acting like a lady on a mission. She ran up and greeted him a couple of times, tail aloft and certainly giving the impression that she was coming into oestrus. However, Zulu continued to lead the move and didn’t really pay her too much attention, but did keep a close eye on her once the pride had resettled at pan 1.

On the 1st, everyone was back at pan 3 looking like they’d partied a bit too hard the night before. There was no sign of the scavenge we’d left for them the previous afternoon and everyone slept on with bloated tummies.

Yesterday (4th) and Kela and Zulu were alone in Kariba.  The rest of the pride were in social form up on Tsavo and not long after we arrived and after a couple of head rubs to get everyone going Leya marched the group across the area and into Sahara before everyone pretty much plonked themselves in a bush and more or less out of our sight.

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