Nothing says I love you like a meal for seven

15 02 2012

Over the last few weeks the grass height in Dambwa has become an increasing obstacle to research on the pride, and no more so than over the last few days. Some efforts have resulted in a massive fail with the grass reaching several feet above the vehicle in many places and the lions being to all purposes un-viewable. Tuesday 14th looked as though it was going to be a similar sort of event – and to a certain extent was.

Following the signals from the collars as far as Tsavo, thanks to a recent rain shower some relatively fresh spoor along the road then led us North toward the Acacia boundary. A little further along the boundary we saw a form in the grass, which on closer inspection turned out to be Zulu drinking from a puddle in the road. After several minutes he stood and turned to walk in the opposite direction from us; his stomach bulging from side to side as he walked away. The girls’ signals were just registering but weren’t too close, but the further we followed Zulu the stronger they got. And then… he turned into the boundary and disappeared right where the rest of the pride’s signals were strongest. Two and two were starting to add up; a fat lion plus a quick drink probably equalled a hidden carcass with the rest of the pride somewhere in the boundary.

Later in the afternoon they had all come out from the boundary and looked mammoth.

Resting in shade (and of course tall grass) near water pan 2, the tell-tale blood streaks with accompanying flies were all over their coats and the chorus of panting finished off any doubt that the pride had shared a Valentine’s Day meal. Our best guess is that it was waterbuck on the menu.

This morning (15th) and they’d moved all the way to the other side of the water pan. Luckily they were a little more visible initially than the previous day and spent the morning grooming one another with great gusto. First Kela and Zulu gave one another a good going over.

Then Kwandi and Temi sandwiched Rusha into an enforced bath.

While sisters Leya and Loma had a bit of a wrestle before cleaning all the mud off of each other.

Despite these lovely scenes, Rusha soon put a stop to them and led the pride into an area that just a few weeks ago we would have been able to continue watching them but now…


It’s the quiet ones you have to watch…

17 12 2011

A run of incredibly bad weather which has more or less kept us out the site since Zulu’s release finally broke today.

We did manage a brief drive round the site during a lull between storms yesterday (16th) afternoon. But we literally only had time to find the lions and get back out again before the next torrent of water hit. Kwandi and Rusha were together in Kariba, Zulu was chilling near pan 2 with Kela, Loma and Leya, while Temi was up to something in the Acacia boundary. We didn’t get the chance to find out what.

This morning everyone was together on the border of Kariba and Sibaka. While the rain was holding off it was still an overcast morning and the cool weather gave rise to more activity than we’d bargained for. A short while after we arrived something caught the entire pride’s interest further up Sibaka towards the Sanga boundary. We watched as one by one the pride (including Zulu) crept off.

A brief glimpse of a herd of impala walking amongst the trees provided the answer to the “what are they up to?” question we were pondering. Watching and waiting, it was a good five minutes before we heard a commotion in the treeline – then all seemed to go quiet. Too quiet.

Suddenly half a dozen impala came flying out of the treeline followed by a blisteringly fast Loma only a couple of metres behind, and subsequently by Leya, Kwandi and Rusha.

The four raced out of our line of sight through the thickening vegetation, and we barely had time to catch our breath before out sauntered Zulu. He looked around, stuck his nose to the ground and like a tracker dog followed the clues all the way to his ladies and a dead impala.

By the time we’d caught up it seems he’d forced Rusha off the kill. She had blood on her coat but was now walking away from the group.

Kela and Temi hadn’t emerged from the treeline and Rusha headed back in that direction, calling for well over 10 minutes (as she often does when separated from Temi). The calling eventually drew Kwandi from the kill once she’d finished her piece. We hoped to catch up to them and that they would lead us to the others but we could only get a signal from Temi’s collar from the tree line. The likely scenario being that she too had caught some breakfast and no amount of calling from partner in crime Rusha was getting her to give it up.

Returning to the others, we found that Kela, Kwandi and Rusha had joined them, although Rusha was still restless.

Once the food was gone it was time for a social, Loma began stalking Kwandi but gave up before Kwandi even noticed and decided to opt for head rub instead. In turn, Kwandi went to greet Zulu – and all seemed well until she turned around and lashed out at him for apparently no reason. In fact many of the females seem a little tentative in their approach to their new pride mate. Even long-term associate and former walking partner, Leya, seemed a bit unsure – approaching Zulu for a greeting but changing her mind and sniffing his mane instead before retreating a few metres. Rusha remained some distance away peering at him from a bush for a few minutes before re-joining the group.

But then there’s Loma.

Having saved the day on Zulu’s release by frankly going to sort him out and demonstrating how to walk through a gate, she doesn’t seem the slightest bit fazed by his sudden presence – nor by the fact that he’s twice her size. After finishing her share of the kill she proceeded to bound all over him like a hyper-active puppy before the pair settled down to groom one another for a time. Eventually she left Zulu to groom a forlorn Rusha.

Later, Kwandi, Leya, Loma, Rusha and Zulu had made their way to the Acacia boundary to rest up for the day.

Temi and Kela had teamed up – with Temi looking a lot plumper than earlier in the morning – making their way up the main road through the site. They both looked frequently in the direction of the Acacia Boundary, but eventually settled next to the road.

Hunting in the green freshness of a post storm Dambwa

9 12 2011

On the 6th the pride had split into three groups, spread throughout the site; Loma and Leya were near water pan one, Rusha and Temi were at pan 2 while Kela and Kwandi were lounging around in Tsavo. We spent most of the day with the K sisters, being the most alert we thought there might be some chance of a bit of action from them at some point whilst the other remained comatose.

We were rewarded at mid-morning with a hunt. As we arrived after the breakfast break we found Kwandi alone on Tsavo; Kela’s signal was still in the area, but suggested she was quite some distance away. Kwandi’s eyes were locked on a herd of 30-odd impala milling around obliviously on the plain in front of her. There was relatively little cover for her to utilise, but undeterred she marched straight out into clear sight. Now, Kwandi’s a very good hunter and was so even as a cub (she made Livingstone’s first ever kill, and followed it up with three more before retirement from walking) – but even for her, this seemed like a lot of faith in her hunting abilities. And very quickly, sure enough the impala spotted her and gave a warning snort.

But she soldiered on nonetheless; now not even bothering to hunker down into a crouch but walking brazenly up to them. As they started to panic and move off she went into a slow chase just as Kela appeared racing out of the tall grass from the other side of the herd. Kwandi’s strategy was now clear – show herself and panic the herd into her sister’s direction who must have flanked around the entire section of the site as Kwandi bided her time in preparation. It nearly worked too, but the girls were just a fraction too early in their execution.

The 7th we were kept out of the site by the weather.  We attempted to enter in the afternoon, a few hours following the storm, but after 200m it became very clear we were going nowhere and nowhere quickly – except back out of the site.

Luckily the bad weather held off long enough for the area to dry out sufficiently for us to make a trip into the site the next morning. All six lions were back together near the main road through Kariba, resting throughout the morning the only point of note was when Loma, Leya and Rusha were panicked out of their slumber when a rotten branch fell out of the tree they were resting under, barely missing Rusha and Leya.

After breakfast we found them in more or less the same spot, but they had been joined by a waterbuck. We stopped a good 100m away from the lions and could see that Kela and Kwandi were already vigilant to the waterbuck, which was quite obliviously ambling along towards the Sanga boundary. Within seconds of our arrival Kela was up and stalking, swiftly closing the 120m distance between herself and the waterbuck – who still had not even the slightest inkling of the doom that was looming.

Kela was about half way across the area when Kwandi and Rusha stood and began to approach – at a slower rate, and within the blink of an eye Kela was right on its tail, literally only 10m away. The waterbuck never turned around but at that point seemed to spook and charged off to join some impala and zebra that were grazing 200m away. Kela watched on, but only stalked a little further before returning to the pride.


Kwandi shows off her hunting chops

21 11 2011

There were hearts in mouths this morning at Dambwa as not only did we see the lions hunting – but we saw the hunt come to a successful conclusion literally 20 metres away from us. After three months, we finally saw the pride make a kill.

Reports from the Dambwa security staff suggest that they may have caught a puku last night (19th) close to waterpan 2, when the shift changed over the distinct distress cry of a puku was heard in the area. But a puku will only go so far between hungry lions and this morning saw Kela, Kwandi, Leya and Loma somewhat restless in Kariba. Temi and Rusha were prowling the other side of the site near Chisamu and Tsavo.

When we returned after breakfast, the four were still in Kariba but Kela, Loma and Leya were watching a herd of 20 impala and one puku who had tagged onto them.  Kwandi had her back to the prey and by all accounts wasn’t aware of their presence. Kela was literally strung so taught trying to restrain herself for the right moment that she looked as though she might snap. Eventually she managed to stalk 15m to the next bush – but just as she reached the cover the impala spotted her and snorted. Seizing the chance Kela raced in, splitting the herd and driving half of the impala east along the tree line, we soon lost sight of her but she was swiftly closing in. Meanwhile, the L sisters and Kwandi began chasing the remaining herd in the other direction but were given the slip when the impala doubled back and raced past them.

It was at this point that Kwandi spotted the puku, clearly unsure which way to go. It was a very quick chase, probably only 20m and she was on top of it. In the blink of an eye Loma and Leya raced over to assist her. Unfortunately for the puku it wasn’t a quick death at all. As the three lions began tearing into it, it took approximately seven long minutes before it finally died.

For a while we thought perhaps Kela had caught something herself as well and were considering going looking for her when about 10 minutes after the catch she came trotting up to the feeding frenzy. And of course all hell broke loose. There was plenty of growling and huffing as everyone was forced round to make space for her, and not long after something set Loma off which saw her dragging the carcass with Kwandi still attached to it about 15m. Having been taken along for the ride Kwandi continued eating while Loma held tightly onto the head; growling and snarling every few seconds.

Kela and Leya had to be content with the bits and pieces that had been left in Loma’s wake.

Checking in with Rusha and Temi, they were sound asleep in Chisamu and had no idea they were missing out on lunch but what they don’t know didn’t seem to hurt them as they rested contently in the shade.

By the time we returned to the others they had moved what was left of their meal back to their original location; Kwandi and Loma continuing to polish off the scraps – but separately this time.


Found (sort of): one ex-bird

4 11 2011

Some cooler and breezy weather over the last few days have given rise to a few signs of activity in the Dambwa pride.  This morning (3rd) Kela, Kwandi, Loma and Leya were once more in Kariba, close to water pan 1. An enormous greeting session was in progress as we arrived which threatened to knock a couple of lions off of their feet, such was its vigour.

Eventually they settled down, only for Loma to become alert to a herd of impala and a lone puku grazing the other side of water pan 1; 150m away.

Loma isn’t much of hunter and made no approach, but what she lacks in action and tactics she makes up for with vigilance and didn’t take her eyes of the herd until the others had caught on about 10 minutes later. Kariba is one of the areas hit by fire prior to the lions’ release and with no rains as yet, it’s a bit barren making stalking in broad daylight something only the most skilful hunter could attempt.

Enter Leya.


A thorn in the foot almost foiled her attempt a mere five metres into the stalk, but she picked it out and soldiered on another few metres to the next tree with a better vantage point.

Water pan 1 is set in a natural riverbed and during the dry season water is pumped in. With nothing to hide behind in her approach, Leya patiently waited until almost all the herd had made their way down the bank to drink so that she could approach unnoticed. Covering a further 80m in the blink of an eye she found a bush to hide in just 20m away from the riverbed. Soon Kwandi followed, and even Loma got involved, and they took up their positions about 50m behind Leya. Kela kept an eye out from a safe distance.

As the herd climbed back out of the riverbed and turned their backs to the lions they began grazing again, heads down and oblivious. Leya rose from her position to cover the last stretch but was spotted just before she could make it to the water pan. Game over.

Meanwhile, Rusha and Temi were in Kulibe. In the local dialect kulibe means nothing, literally. This corner of the site is so named because there is nothing there except a wall of trees and grass, and you can see… nothing. The signals appeared to place them pretty much in the middle of all this nothing, and we didn’t have a rat’s chance in Kulibe of seeing them.

By mid-morning the KLs were in more restive form in Kariba and Rusha and Temi were still in Kulibe. As we conducted our daily game count we found evidence that while the morning’s impala hunt hadn’t gone quite to plan, sometime overnight someone had possibly caught themselves a bird (any ideas what type, answers on a postcard please) at waterpan 2; a light snack that should keep them going until the next big meal.

Kwandi & Loma go after puku

24 10 2011

The puku were agitated this morning (18th); three looked on at us rather nervously from a gap in the Acacia boundary while sounding their alarm calls, and on our right was the reason why. About 100m away next to waterpan 2 Kwandi was scanning the area.


As we got closer we could hear her calling and saw that she had fresh blood on her snout but didn’t look particularly full. Before spotting her we had been about to turn in the other direction following Leya’s signal towards Pan 3; given the lack of other lions in the area and Kwandi’s appearance we at first thought she was on her own having caught an impala or puku away from the rest of the pride. After several moments of calling she set off South across Bwizu towards the border of Sahara.


As she neared a familiar face appeared from the tall grass and began approaching her from the opposite direction; Loma.


Meeting, Kwandi jumped up at her and wrestled Loma back to the ground – perhaps a reprimand for not answering Kwandi’s call, or just a light-hearted spot of play. Loma’s stomach size suggested that she too had fed recently, but as she went off to drink we quickly sped off to check for the other lions who were indeed at pan 3.

While Kwandi looked as though she’d snacked and Loma looked like she’d had a decent meal the remaining four looked… rotund. The most likely scenario now being that these girls had killed something much bigger and had their fair share before Kwandi and Loma arrived late to the scene.


Heading back to the duo, they were both making their way back south across Bwizu calling softly – following them they led us straight to the latest wildebeest kill, which must have been made in the early hours of the morning.

They fed for a few minutes before heading deeper into Sahara where we promptly lost them in the tall grass.


About to give up and head back to the others, we stumbled across them in a rather predatory mood on the Lusaka road which runs through the centre of the site. They were tucked deep into the grass in crouched positions on the one of the road’s corners. The bend in the road and tall grass meant we couldn’t see what had taken their interest but it was obvious that something had as Kwandi’s tail flicked back and forth and she’d occasionally rise on her haunches only to lie back flat.


Eventually a puku came into our view as it crossed the road from Sahara and into Chobe. Loma gave the puku a helping hand by standing up… while it hadn’t spotted the lions it knew something was there. Kwandi shot forward in a crouched run, but the game was up and the puku was gone.


Following the intrepid duo further east they eventually ended up in one of their favoured thickets on the borders of Sahara and Chobe.


Having spent all morning with Kwandi and Loma, we stopped in with the others after breakfast. Kela’s snoring was the only point of note as she disturbed the others continually but slept on deeply herself; the noise forcing Rusha to move to a neighbouring bush and Temi looked thoroughly hacked off after being woken up for the umpteenth time.




Double trouble

29 09 2011

Before we’d even entered the site this morning we knew exactly where we would find the lions and what they’d be doing; thanks to the Dambwa security staff telling us!  At around 04:30 this morning staff at Lusaka Gate had heard the lions making a kill in the Tsavo area of the site and so naturally that’s where we headed straight away.

On arriving in Tsavo, sure enough, we found Kwandi and Rusha sitting proudly next to a half-eaten carcass and panting furiously with the effort of it all, Kela and Temi were about 30m away watching a bush to their right.  In this bush were Leya, Loma and a second wildebeest carcass, also half-eaten. The ladies had had a busy morning.


The kill sites were close by and the blood was still fresh on the grass; vultures were already circling above. Rusha went to eat from the carcass closest to her for a good 20 minutes or so before deciding she needed to drag it 30 odd metres away (maybe to burn off a few of those extra calories). As she was doing so, Leya was immediately up on her feet and approached her. Yesterday morning we saw a bit of kerfuffle between these two over the remains of their previous kill with Rusha emerging victorious; this time however, she made a few low moans and backed down immediately and let Leya eat alone.


Kela then sauntered over to feed from the second carcass and was shortly followed by Temi. With everyone crowding the area, Leya then thought it’d be a good idea to drag Rusha’s original carcass into the thicket where everyone else was sleeping and the second carcass was. The place was getting crowded and it was at this point that Rusha decided she needed a bit of space and went and found herself a spot of shade some 60m away.


But Leya had more than wildebeest wrestling to contend with this morning. Kela had come into oestrus shortly after the pride was released and during those few days Leya had been on the receiving end of Kela’s amorous behaviour. And this morning… Kela was back on heat; seemingly from nowhere, one minute she was eating quite happily, the next – boom, she was acting like a lovesick school girl! Once again, she only had eyes for Leya and greeted her repeatedly before flopping on top of her and rolling on her back. After several minutes of being harassed Leya finally snapped, bared her teeth and moved next to Kwandi. Kela clearly can’t take a hint, and swiftly followed.


Later in the day, and Temi had wandered over to join Rusha in a more exclusive patch of shade, and Loma and Kwandi were sticking to the other side of the bush well out of the way of Kela’s fussing. She’d calmed down a little since the morning but was still sticking close to Leya – who had found an excuse every once in a while to get away from her admirer by chasing the vultures away who were picking up the scraps of the lions’ latest meals.



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