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.

Emulating ducks in flight

22 12 2011

After plenty of rain and then cool fresh air, we’re now back to blistering temperatures and of course all this has a bearing on the pride’s activity levels. But on the afternoon of the 21st the lions were in rather spritely form.

We found Zulu firstly sitting alone near the boundary road close to pan 3. We couldn’t see any of the girls but Leya, Kwandi, Temi and Rusha’s signals were very strong and likely coming from just inside the treeline behind him. Kela and Loma’s signals led us to water pan 2 – but again we couldn’t see them.  Moving around the Bwizu area we almost completed a full circuit when lo-and-behold we saw the pair drinking from the water pan.  Minutes later the rest of the pride showed up and there was plenty of bounding at one another and greeting.

They settled down at pan 2 – but not for long and soon were heading into the tall grasses of Sahara. We were able to track their progress through this area from the boundary of the section but had to wait for them to emerge at the top near Tsavo. They were walking in quite an intimidating V-formation with Rusha at the helm – except for Zulu who was milling around at the back in whichever direction took his fancy.

The five impala sheltering from the sun in the shade of a tree on Tsavo soon had the girls’ attentions. As they reached the road which bisects Tsavo and Sahara they stood briefly, most in full view – it was as evident that the impala had seen them as it was that the lions had seen the impala. But Temi who we’ve watched countless times take up this position, slunk off to the right – briefly followed by Zulu for all of about 10m. The rest of the girls kept walking directly towards the herd – holding their attention as Temi slunk further and further out onto the flank; perhaps the plan being to panic them into fleeing straight into their waiting comrade.

But the plan went wrong when the impala ran off to left and into the Acacia boundary rather than in Temi’s direction.

Leya seemed torn between “is it really worth it” and “must kill impala” thoughts, but eventually set off after them at a half-hearted trot. Kela, Loma and Temi followed, while Rusha, Kwandi and Zulu found a nice spot to rest in the shade. The better part of 20 minutes later and the lions’ ambush line had pretty much fallen asleep.

This morning everyone was back in Kariba sleeping. The hot weather and the big move yesterday afternoon seemingly taking its toll as the most activity we saw all morning was Leya fixing her beady eyes on some vultures flying overhead. But even that was too much in the end and rest was quickly resumed.

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.


A change of diet

24 11 2011

It’s been a busy few days in Dambwa with the arrival of more game species to the site ahead of the rainy season. The 21st saw the introduction of more puku and impala as well as new challenges for the lions; eland and waterbuck.

Yesterday (22nd) we attempted to enter the site but were soon forced out by a fairly severe downpour. In the 20 short minutes we’d managed to be in the site, we’d spotted Temi sitting in the Acacia boundary at the Kariba end of the site.  She appeared to be alone but was too far up into the tree line to make out if she was merely sheltering from the storm or up to something more cunning.

The signals for the rest of the pride led us to the other side of Kariba; however the rains were turning the black cotton soil into a swamp and try as we might we couldn’t reach them without risking getting stuck. Trying to view the remaining five lions from outside of the site we managed to see they had two “lumps” of something from which they were feeding. The only lion to give us a good view for a few brief minutes was Kela, who came out from the bush rolled around on her back for a bit in front of sister Kwandi before going back into the bush.

With no rain for the rest of the day or overnight we tried our luck again this morning (23rd) and found the ground had dried out sufficiently. As we approached the last sighting of Kela and the other four in her group the previous day we were greeted by dozens of yellow-billed kites, hooded and white-backed vultures which were swarming all over the trees. Making our way to the spot we found the source of their interest; yesterday’s breakfast – puku.

However the lions’ signals led us to the Acacia boundary; as we approached we could see Kela sitting at the edge of the boundary near the road, the rest we were getting strong signals for but couldn’t see. Eventually we found Temi keeping the half-eaten remains of an eland company, and a rather rotund-looking Kwandi, Rusha, Leya and Loma close to her. Temi managed to wake briefly and shovel a few more mouthfuls down before collapsing next to Kwandi and resuming her rest.

By mid-morning Kela had moved off (Temi was now eating a little more enthusiastically, but the others slept on) and we caught up to her as she approached water pan 3. Yesterday morning she’d showed some mild signs of oestrus rolling on her back several times; today as she walked towards the water pan her tail flicked in the air continuously before she then called a few times to the water and flopped back down.

Obviously the lions have been getting well acquainted with the new game so we undertook a game count. We located some of the new waterbuck but the remaining eland sensibly seem to be hiding.

As we were making our way around the site, we bumped into all six lions who had regrouped and were now resting in Kariba. Loma looked like she was ready to be sick with the effort of the move on such a full belly, Kwandi wasn’t fairing too much better and the others panted with the hideous exertion of it all.

Heading off once more in search of the remaining elands we again came up short. On returning to the lions for a final check before leaving the site Temi was leaving the group and heading back in the direction of the eland carcass. Ten points to her for the effort; the remaining five may need to be rolled from their current positions if they have any thoughts of moving anytime soon…

Off with his head!

9 11 2011

The temperature was boiling even before we entered the site this morning, and so expectations of much action weren’t especially high. On our way through the site we encountered three nervous-looking female puku on the Lusaka Road – their jittery temperament would soon be explained.


The lions’ signals were leading us further up the road towards Chisamu and after negotiating several clumps of trees, potholes and anthills we found the pride ripping apart what was left of an adult male puku – no doubt chaperone (until very recently) to the three nervous ladies down the road.


Loma proudly carried off his head to gnaw on, while everyone else worked on the rest of the bits and pieces. Shortly after our arrival Leya moved over to keep a watchful eye on her sister and Rusha moved off completely, heading towards the Lusaka Road and out of sight.

Kwandi soon left the leg she was chewing on and went and joined Leya. After several minutes Loma eventually left the head to look for something a bit meatier and the scramble between Kwandi and Leya for it was immense. There was growling, lunging and swiping from which Kwandi emerged victorious and marched off into the bushes with a brand new set of horns.


The lions continued to change places, picking up half eaten legs and other un-savouries on their way through the tall grass before continuing to eat at a different spot around the kill site. At one point, Leya approached Kela and was met with her second reprimand from the Ks that morning, only to receive yet another from Kwandi as she tried to evade Kela… It really wasn’t Leya’s morning.


Rusha returned after her 20 minute jaunt by herself and sat down with Kela for a good grooming session. Leya came back over and meekly sat close to Temi who had stashed three of the legs for herself while everyone else had been bickering. A slightly chastised-looking Leya didn’t try her luck with either Temi or her sister Loma, who had the last remaining leg.


Eventually Kwandi emerged from the bush allowing Leya to finally get some face time with the head… which by now could have only had a few paltry scraps of meat left on it. But she returned to the group some time later and her first port of call was to give Kwandi a head rub before settling down.  The the rest of the morning was spent sleeping, grooming and vulture watching.


A game count, while showing one less puku, provided evidence that the impala are multiplying! We counted four juveniles born over the last few days and with a number of other females (both impala and puku) looking rather plump there are going to plenty of snacks, sorry, youngsters running around the site very soon.



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.

Kela & Rusha have their first tiff

31 10 2011

The Dambwa pride have kept themselves busy over the weekend with a zebra kill which occupied most of Saturday, and by Sunday we found them relaxing by water pan 3.  Wildebeest and some impala were nearby – although just out of sight; but when we arrived everyone was alert and scanning the area in the game’s direction. With the weight of their latest meal in their bellies no one seemed overly keen to go looking for them though.

We witnessed the first bit of discord between pride members that couldn’t be explained away by food or oestrus. Kela had been sitting about 20m away from the rest of the pride –watching out for whatever game species had caught their attention earlier. Sometime after our arrival she approached Rusha greeted her and then sat before deciding that she didn’t actually want to sit there at all. As she stood and turned, Rusha sniffed at Kela and grabbed one of her back legs. Kela is probably the most placid lion ever to have existed, but for whatever reason she span and lunged at Rusha before going to sit on her own again.

Rusha followed and went round the other side of the water pan, watching Kela. After 10 minutes of eyeing a sleeping Kela intently, Rusha crept round and sniffed her again. This time there was no drama and Rusha decided it was best to go and sleep in a bush.

By mid-morning everyone had shifted into the Acacia boundary and out of our sight; so it was time for a game count.

Despite, or in spite of, the lions’ hunting success some of the prey populations in the site are actually managing to sustain and even increase their numbers. For instance, “Baby” (probably quite unwise to get so attached to it as to name it…); a three month old puku was born in the site not much more than a week before the lions’ release. No one expected him/her to last very long, but the herd have obviously done an excellent job of keeping the young one safe and has learnt how to avoid the six lions (hopefully). It also looks as if a number of the females are also pregnant, which bodes well for their sustainability within the site.

Bird watch also continues, and to add to the list of impressive avian occupants we recently saw a Yellow-Billed Kite and on the game count yesterday a Steppe Eagle.

The Dambwa girls earn their stripes

4 10 2011

Recently the lions have been spending a lot time in the Sahara area of the site digesting all the wildebeest from earlier in the week.  On the morning of the 29th Loma and Rusha were missing from the group’s favoured spot in this area. Having found the other four a stone’s throw away from where they’d spent all day on the 28th the absentees’ signals led us to neighbouring Chisamu. Try as we might however, we just couldn’t get a visual of them.

Returning to Kela, Kwandi, Leya and Temi it wasn’t long before we heard the gentle calling of a lost lion. Making her way through the grass was Loma. The closer she got the more apparent the rather fresh blood on her face became and after several greetings to her pride mates she flopped down and the stomach size told the rest of the story. Ten minutes later and Rusha repeated the process; complete with rouged cheeks.

None of the other lions bore these tell-tale signs, and with Loma and Rusha being two of the weakest hunters in the pride, it’s encouraging to see that they can pool their collective efforts and come up with something even if they don’t have the star hunters like Leya, Kwandi and Temi around. Game counts later that day suggest their victim was impala.

By afternoon the main order of the day was of course rest. That was until Kela woke up…

Having come into oestrus on the 27th she was still troubling Leya and throughout the afternoon Kela would rush over to her, lie on top of her, run off, roll around on her back for a bit, before repeating the process over and over again. The sounds coming from Leya’s direction made it clear she was enjoying this extra attention about as much as you’d enjoy having teeth pulled.

On the 1st October, their signals led us to Chobe – and straight to the same thicket they’d been in on the 8th September. On that occasion we’d just been able to make out their forms and that of a wildebeest carcass. Today however they were so deep into it no visual could be made. What we could see however were a couple hooded vultures perched close by; but the terrain made it impossible for us to get to their location. So it was time for another game count.

So far we’ve seen the lions mainly target the wildebeest with the odd puku and impala thrown in for variety’s sake. On the game count we found that there was a zebra missing; the pride’s first since being released. After completing the count we returned to the source of the lions’ signals but nothing could be seen or heard. Still, it didn’t take Miss Marple to work out that one missing zebra plus vultures close by to the lions’ location is likely to equal six very full bellies.

Where is the lone ranger?

31 08 2011

Five of the lions, Kela, Kwandi, Loma, Leya and Rusha, were at Waterpan 2 first thing this morning (30th) relaxing in the warming sun. Loma and Rusha’s stomachs looked a little rounded, certainly not wildebeest or zebra rounded, but perhaps they’d snacked on impala or puku overnight.

Leya led a short move followed by sister Loma and Rusha. Settling in the shade of a tree and within seconds all three bellies were pointing skywards. Later Kwandi and finally Kela joined them.

But where was Temi?

Her signal led us some distance away to the Sanga Boundary in the Sibaka area of the site. The tree lines which the boundaries of the site are built into are fairly impenetrable by vehicle. Much squinting ensued and after a couple of mistaken sightings of logs we took a GPS for her strongest signal and left her to her own devices in privacy.

Later that morning the five were still unconscious under the same tree, and Temi was still hidden away in the tree line, although her signal suggested she’d edged a little closer up nearer to the Chobe area; but still no visual could be made.

Since the pride were released, we haven’t seen them actually feeding on any carcasses. Stomach sizes suggest they haven’t been going hungry however. As no vultures have been seen congregating in any area of the site no kill locations have been established either. So in the heat of the day while the lions slept we counted game to try and work out what had actually been killed.

The Dambwa Forest isn’t called a forest for nothing. Even after the fire a month before the pride was released the open areas where all the grass has been burnt away are still populated by dense thickets. Several counts ahead of the pride’s release were required to get accurate numbers of game populations and today proved just as difficult with the wildebeest stubbornly standing in two thickets and a number of impala hiding in the Acacia boundary. According to our counts today, the lions have killed an exceptional eight wildebeest, some 20 impala and a handful of puku all in four days! And not a vulture in sight. It isn’t likely.

By the afternoon the five were starting to get a little livelier. A mass grooming session followed by a bumbling stalk on some guinea fowl by Rusha and Loma kicked things off. But the pair soon gave up when the rest of the pride headed off towards Lusaka road and across into Chobe. Heading West they then plonked themselves down in another of Dambwa’s infamous thickets and out of our sights.

One last search for Temi yielded only the same results as earlier. Her signal stayed stubbornly put in the Sanga treeline. But at least the rest of the pride was slowly edging that way and the lone ranger will hopefully meet up with the rest of the Dambwa posse before long.

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