A pain in the grass…

6 03 2012

Wednesay (29th) we joined the pride on the border of Tsavo and Kulibe in what is probably the only clearing left in the site. It was a quiet day – apart from one rather inappropriate move Loma pulled on Leya.

Later in the week they were in Kariba. We spent an entertaining two hours with the only visible part of any of the lions being Kela’s bottom. After breakfast however, things livened up a bit. As we arrived we found them all sitting under a bush watching a guinea fowl in the tree above them that was screeching its head off. After several minutes, the lions had lost interest and the bird eventually seemed to calm down (no doubt its being up a tree had something to do with the seven lions) and flew to the ground about 30 metres past the lions.

The bird then proceeded to continue its calling whilst walking back in the direction of the lions. Rusha finally roused herself from the bush and peered around a tree to watch as it waddled closer. As it then turned off in a different direction still advertising its position louder than was wise, Rusha began to follow. She seemed to get to within 10 metres of it before losing it in the grass and returning to the pride.

Monday (5th) and after stopping by one of the lions’ recent feeding sites, we tracked their signals down to a bush on the edges of Bwizu and Chobe. No matter which side we came from the lions couldn’t be seen, so we decided to check water levels at the three pans. Returning to the bush on the off-chance the lions had moved out of it we found that now their signals weren’t even emitting from the area. But we were able to follow some rather fresh prints to their new location at pan 2. But they were no more visible here either.

Luckily Kela saved the day by sitting just within sight, but the rest we could only listen to as they shuffled around in the grass. A brief glimpse of Temi and an even briefer one of Kwandi helped pass the afternoon, but we spent the session watching Kela as she enjoyed the afternoon breeze.

What’s going on in there?

28 02 2012

Once again, the weather has done a pretty good job of keeping us out of the site over the last week or so. This morning when we went in, we got to see just what effect the downpours have been having on the Dambwa Release Area. The entire area, including the roads, is now dwarfed by six to eight foot grass; swamping our vehicle and of course the lions. Over the last few weeks, the viewing has been difficult – now it’s practically non-existent.

Having tracked their signals to the edges of the Acacia boundary it took the better part of the two hours to pick out seven forms in the grass and then wait for each one to stand up and resettle in a new position until we were able to identify each lump confidently. A morning well spent.

A game count after breakfast proved fairly fruitless, with the game proving just as difficult to spot as the lions. Even when we did happen to catch a flash of an animal in the grass counting them was more guess work than anything else.

Back to the lions and thankfully some of them had shifted into the shade of a tree and the grass they had flattened around them gave a few glimpses of activity and behaviour.

The now obligatory tree scratch of each session came today from Loma, who then and had good old groom with Rusha.

Temi and Zulu watched the skies while Leya slept on and the Ks remained stubbornly just out of sight until we were about to leave when Kwandi finally came into view.

By all accounts, a quiet and relaxing time in Dambwa… but who knows what’s going on in that grass?!

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…

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.


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.

The first stirrings… maybe?

28 12 2011

On Christmas Eve the pride were all relaxing in Kariba. Not long after we arrived Kwandi initiated a move which one by one everyone else, except Kela who was passed out in the tall grass followed. We had just started an activity budget with Rusha during the move, when she split off away from the others and began heading in her own direction.  As she was our focus lion for the next hour we of course stuck with her as she made her way to water pan one. After a quick sniff around a few old carcasses, she set off again. Waiting for her to get a distance in front we set off after. And then there was a noise. Two noises actually, as first the back left tyre burst, not once but twice and a rush of air came out.

We knew roughly where the lions were as we hadn’t been gone that long, but the thick vegetation that is growing rapidly now in the rainy season meant we couldn’t see where Rusha was anymore or if the rest of the pride were making their way in our direction too. So a back-up vehicle entered the site and came to watch the lions while the tyre was changed.

Once that was all done, Rusha had found her way back to the rest of the pride and Kela had woken up and joined them too. But there wasn’t much of the afternoon left for us to observe.

Yesterday (27th) we found the pride on the march to water pan 3 with Kela and Kwandi leading the way. But as they neared the pan instead of drinking there was a mass, well, orgy almost. Kela, Kwandi, Loma and Leya flopped on top of one another head-rubbing and rolling around. This scene of sisterly love went on for close to 10 minutes.

Rusha and Temi sat a little distance away looking on with incredulousness. Zulu on the other hand kept an even healthier distance to begin with.

The main initiator in this affectionate display (from what we could see amongst the rolling mass of fur) appeared to be Leya. A normally fairly reserved lion in her affections, it could possibly indicate she is coming into heat. But there were no other overt signs that this is the case. It is worth remembering that these lions are much younger than the Ngamo pride and that three of the Dambwa females have not yet had their first oestrus cycles, which is perfectly normal for their age.

Once the commotion had died down a little, Zulu seemed to find the courage to approach. Of course all four of the KLs bolted up right at his approach and looked on eagerly – but we didn’t observe any of the classic “displaying” signals from the females to him.

Despite it being a rather cool and breezy afternoon and perfect lion weather, apart from that first initial burst of activity everything went a bit quiet after that. Kwandi and Rusha were especially alert to the slightest noise but everyone seemed content to spend the afternoon resting.

Since Zulu’s release, Temi is probably the one female who has continued to give him a bit of a wider berth than the others, clearly intimidated at times. So it was nice to see towards the end of the afternoon that she came over and greeted him – tentatively – before sitting next to him in the mass KL huddle.

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.

The Long and Winding Road

18 12 2011

To say that the lions had the wind up their tails this morning would be the understatement of the century. Everyone but Temi was at water pan 1 first thing this morning and the continued cool weather combined with the still rather high spirits from Zulu’s recent arrival meant the girls were in flying form.

Stalking, chasing and jumping on one another as they tore along and through the water pan, we had to move the research vehicle a number of times as on occasion their chasing led them a bit too close for comfort. Meanwhile, the designated adult of the group – Zulu – watched on with barely concealed lethargy.

Despite these picturesque scenes we decided to leave the group and search out Temi; about three-quarters of the way further down the site we eventually picked up her signal in Sahara. With wavering strength of signal it suggested she was on the move and in the pot-hole filled area we weren’t risking driving through 6 ft high grass to find her.

Heading back to the others we found they too were looking for a change of scene. Still acting like a group of maniacs the girls were leading Zulu through Puku Dambo and continued at an impressive clip towards water pan 2. We were keeping our fingers crossed that they would stop at the pan and give us a break from trying to pick them out from amongst the vegetation – but no, the march continued with all heads turned North.

Preparing ourselves to watch a hunt, it turned out it was not prey that had caught their attention but Temi who had made her way through Sahara since we had left her and into Bwizu. She approached cautiously – mainly because a towering Zulu was in her way (Temi is dwarfed by the other females in the pride, and next to Zulu looks practically cub-sized) – but keeping a wary distance she joined in the parade and headed back the way in which she came from.

But we were closely coming up on Sahara, and as mentioned before it’s a bit of a dicey area to drive through but we could make out the direction they were heading so drove round to the Lusaka Road to wait for them to hopefully emerge. But 20 minutes later we were still waiting. All of their signals were very close – likely no more than 50m away, but it was clear they were no longer moving.

It appears the morning walk must have continued after our departure from the first session as by the time we came back at mid-morning all seven signals were stubbornly staying put in the Acacia boundary and out of sight.

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