Sunshine and showers

21 03 2012

After the much-awaited sighting on the 18th the 19th continued to compensate for the last few weeks. To start with the pride was relaxing in Chisamu when we first arrived. As they chilled out beneath one of Dambwa’s notorious thickets we managed to find a spot that gave us a reasonable view of them.

A rustling in the tall grass on the other side of the bushes woke everyone up. We couldn’t see what it was, but Kwandi almost certainly could as she got up and began stalking. The “hunt” (if you can call stalking for about 2m a hunt) didn’t last long though and whatever it was either wasn’t of sufficient interest or soon vanished from sight as she sat back down.

After several minutes to recover themselves, the pride then moved out from the thicket and onto the road where we trailed them into Sahara. Coming to yet another thicket they stopped for a drink at a natural water pan which has been created from the rains before settling down once more. Just as the late afternoon sun began to cast a golden glow on them, most of the pride began to tilt their heads skywards, sniffing the air. At first it looked like they may have caught scent of an animal – but shortly after when the skies opened, it seemed more likely they’d got a whiff of the incoming downpour.

Yesterday (20th) was a much more sedate affair with the group resting up in Kariba. For most of the morning we were only able to see Kela, Loma and Zulu clearly, with the others slumped in the grass nearby. Rusha initiated a short move for the group just before breakfast and for a few glorious minutes we watched as all seven ambled along the road before settling down to a bit of a social… before vanishing back into the grass.





Hiya!

18 03 2012

We’re very aware that this blog talks more about grass than it does the actual Dambwa pride these days. However, it has become the key element that dictates the success of our sessions with the pride. The last few weeks have been, for want of a better word, testing. Even when the lions have been found walking along the roads in the site, many of these are so overgrown now that it doesn’t afford much better viewing.

Happily today (18th) they were on one of the roads which still allows a relatively clear view. The first visual of the morning came when we found Kwandi, Kela, Temi and Zulu slap bang in the middle of the road – our view completely unobstructed, a rare treat. Leya, Loma and Rusha were just off the road and the ferocious grinding of teeth against bone punctuated with the odd scraping of tongues to remove every last shred of their latest meal gave a hint as to what the trio were up to.

By 8am the temperature was already soaring, and with everyone having nice full bellies there wasn’t much to do except enjoy being able to see them for a while. One by one they rose and began milling along the road a short distance before stopping to drink from a puddle before settling down in the grass.

By mid-morning they were roughly in the same spot but had moved to the side of the road so we were just about able to make them out. It did however take some considerable time to pick out who was who in the heap of lions as the seven performed their usual trick of contorting and piling every single last one of themselves into one tiny patch of shade.





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…





On the move

25 01 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 





A different type of prey…

17 01 2012

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

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

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

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

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





Work, rest and then… more rest

15 01 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 





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…








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