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.

Zulu strolls in to take his rightful place in the Dambwa pride

11 12 2011


The rains that delayed our efforts on Saturday had cleared.  The ground had hardened sufficiently and the Lion Encounter Zambia / ALERT team headed out to Dambwa under a bright, but overcast sky.  The plan itself was simple; open the gate to Zulu’s management enclosure and lead him through a fenced area (+- 35 acres) to the gate and then into the release site itself.  This did of course rely on Zulu wanting to follow us and the Dambwa girls not choosing that exact moment to move to sit by the gate.

All started well and Zulu came out of the management enclosure after only a few moments hesitation.  The girls were some distance away.

Then it started to rain.  Heavily.  Very heavily.  Zulu got to within a few metres of the release site gate and the team were thinking that we were going to get a hole in one, so to speak, before rushing to the nearest shelter.  Straight forward, no fuss, no hassle.  But of course life, and lions, never quite have the same idea. It was at this point that Zulu spotted a waterbuck that it turns out was in the fenced area between the management enclosure and the release site.  And Zulu went for it.  After some 10 minutes of us trying to work out where he was we spotted him, jaws wrapped around the waterbuck’s neck which he broke in one swift movement.  The guy has still got it going on!

Of course now we had a lion with a large meal and still some 200m from the gate we need him to move through to get into the release site.  But at least the heavy shower had ended.  Now as many people may know, Zulu is quite scared of vehicles and as we drove towards the kill he quickly moved off around 50m allowing us to tie the waterbuck to the back of the truck; the plan being to drag it through the gate with Zulu following; job done!.

Not quite so straight forward in practice.  It started well.  We dragged, Zulu followed, some 30m behind.  We got to the fence line of the release site and had only around 75m along it to go before we got to the gate.  At this point a torrent of water fell from the sky that simply cannot be described in words.  In seconds we were stuck in thick black mud.  And that is when the girl’s decided to arrive to investigate the commotion.

This might sound bad, but in fact their arrival worked in our favour.  It only took a few moments to unstick the vehicle and we quickly drove through the gate into the release area and were able to untie the waterbuck before six hungry girls descended upon it.  Zulu, whose interest was already piqued by the carcass, now also had the enticement of six females with who he had shared much of his life to date but had not seen for a while.  He made his way to the gate; and stalled.

Sitting in belting rain with lightening striking all around us we thought that, at the last moment, Zulu would bottle it and return to his enclosure.  It was Loma who left the carcass to go out of the release site and into the fenced area to greet Zulu by, well, jumping on him excitedly.  She waggled her tail as she returned to the kill and it was all too much for Zulu to resist.

Just before 1pm on Sunday 11th December 2011 Zulu walked through the release site gate of his own accord and into a new life as head of the Dambwa pride.  He joined the females at the carcass where he sat patiently to one side whilst the girls started to tuck in; his mane lying flat under the weight of water from an almost unimaginable amount of rain.

We wish the now complete pride every success and look forward to bringing you the next instalment in the life of this pioneering lion pride (rain permitting)

A feast fit for a pride… or two

4 12 2011

Wednesday 30th November found all of the pride looking fat and content near waterpan 2. It was painfully obvious that since we had last visited them last they had eaten something, but search the area as we might we couldn’t find the source of the bulging waistlines.

Still, even the extra weight didn’t stop Leya making mischief with sister Loma.

On Friday (2nd), we weren’t really too sure what had happened…

The morning started off peacefully enough with the KLs eyeing up a waterbuck in Kariba but still a little weighted down from the last meal didn’t do anything about it. Rusha and Temi had headed off in the opposite direction and were resting happily in the shade of a tree in Tsavo. By mid-morning the KLs had drifted off to sleep but as we returned to Rusha and Temi, the pair had just got up and started to stalk off into the Acacia treeline. Quickly switching off the engine, the shapes of Temi stalking directly and Rusha taking a right flank were just visble.

But we couldn’t see what they were stalking and to begin with weren’t even sure that they in fact were. Once they disappeared out of sight and further into the treeline we could only guess at what was going on. Until… a sudden crash of branches indicated the chase was on and from the sounds of it, Temi had initiated it. We caught a brief glimpse high up in the tree line of Rusha racing across to assist and were able to follow the progress of what we still assumed was a hunt by the shaking trees. Then confirmation: the unmistakable sounds of an animal caught. We knew it was big from the sounds, which meant either zebra (unlikely, they’re rarely in the thickets), waterbuck (possible, but again unlikely as they usually are spotted elsewhere in the site) or eland.  As the pandemonium in the trees escalated we could only listen.  Without achieving even a glimpse of what  the %$@* was going on we had to admit defeat and leave the area and leave the pair to their meal.

Catching up with Kela, Kwandi, Leya and Loma we arrived just in time to see Kwandi initiate a hunt on some zebra close to water pan 1. As her group mates watched on, she began the stalk from 150m and considering how open the area was she made rapid progress. But was spotted at around 30m. Kwandi continued to pursue for a while, but the game was up. For now.

Weather kept us out of the site on Saturday; a huge storm the previous night making many of the roads un-drivable.

Today (4th) we caught up with the Kela/Kwandi gang the other side of water pan 1 sitting around the remains of a zebra kill. It seemed perhaps Kwandi hadn’t given up quite so easily!  Rusha and Temi were still up in Tsavo, and Rusha seemed in restless form.

Luckily for us Rusha’s mooching around eventually lead us to where the pair had dragged the kill from Friday. It was indeed an eland. These antelope are ginormous; and having had the thing to themselves for the past two days so were Rusha and Temi. The carcass was best part of 70% utilised and now the remaining meat is starting to green. Neither looked capable of shoving another mouthful in… but were equally unwilling to give up the spoils to the collecting vultures.

An anniversary meal

28 11 2011

The 26th marked three months since the Dambwa pride were released; and what better way to mark the occasion than with a slap-up meal?

We found the girls in Sibaka this afternoon (growing greener by the day thanks to the rains), celebrating their success as a pride over a meal of freshly-caught waterbuck, the kill likely made no more than half-an-hour before our arrival. Rusha and Kela were taking a break from the festivities whilst the others dragged the carcass back and forth trying to get to the best meat. The carcass had already been eviscerated and the offals lay in clumps, ignored for now, around the kill site.

Despite their rather full stomachs, the overcast and breezy weather meant that there were some rather high spirits with Rusha cockily provoking Kwandi into some hijinks.

After an hour or so, Loma moved in the direction of waterpan 1. Ten minutes later Kela and Leya made a similar move, and so did we. As we approached we could see Loma returning in the same direction, but she quickly concealed herself behind a bush and lay in ambush for her sister and Kela. As Leya neared she leapt out and the pair wrestled, before Loma took up the same position for Kela; but Kela was on a mission for water and just sauntered on past a rather disappointed Loma.

After such a cruel rejection, Loma soon left back in the direction of the kill, but we remained with Kela and Leya at the water pan. After a hearty drink the pair spent several minutes stalking one another from the river bed before they too headed back to the party.

But playtime at the water pan may well have cost them their share of the meal, as in the half-an-hour or so we had been absent Kwandi, Rusha, Temi and Loma had practically finished the carcass off. Temi even appeared to fall asleep for several minutes on one part of it (all that excitement of the big day had clearly worn her out). Leya tried to re-insert herself around the carcass, but there wasn’t much left to make it worthwhile; Kela sat a little way away in a huff – calculating her share of the bill.

Sunday, we entered the site in the afternoon to find the pride topping up their energy reserves on a quick puku snack. Unfortunately the session was short lived when a fairly intense storm entered the site forcing us out…

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…

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.


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