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.

Advertisements




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.





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.

 





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)








%d bloggers like this: