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…

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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.

 





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.





Kwandi & Loma go after puku

24 10 2011

The puku were agitated this morning (18th); three looked on at us rather nervously from a gap in the Acacia boundary while sounding their alarm calls, and on our right was the reason why. About 100m away next to waterpan 2 Kwandi was scanning the area.

 

As we got closer we could hear her calling and saw that she had fresh blood on her snout but didn’t look particularly full. Before spotting her we had been about to turn in the other direction following Leya’s signal towards Pan 3; given the lack of other lions in the area and Kwandi’s appearance we at first thought she was on her own having caught an impala or puku away from the rest of the pride. After several moments of calling she set off South across Bwizu towards the border of Sahara.

 

As she neared a familiar face appeared from the tall grass and began approaching her from the opposite direction; Loma.

 

Meeting, Kwandi jumped up at her and wrestled Loma back to the ground – perhaps a reprimand for not answering Kwandi’s call, or just a light-hearted spot of play. Loma’s stomach size suggested that she too had fed recently, but as she went off to drink we quickly sped off to check for the other lions who were indeed at pan 3.

While Kwandi looked as though she’d snacked and Loma looked like she’d had a decent meal the remaining four looked… rotund. The most likely scenario now being that these girls had killed something much bigger and had their fair share before Kwandi and Loma arrived late to the scene.

 

Heading back to the duo, they were both making their way back south across Bwizu calling softly – following them they led us straight to the latest wildebeest kill, which must have been made in the early hours of the morning.

They fed for a few minutes before heading deeper into Sahara where we promptly lost them in the tall grass.

 

About to give up and head back to the others, we stumbled across them in a rather predatory mood on the Lusaka road which runs through the centre of the site. They were tucked deep into the grass in crouched positions on the one of the road’s corners. The bend in the road and tall grass meant we couldn’t see what had taken their interest but it was obvious that something had as Kwandi’s tail flicked back and forth and she’d occasionally rise on her haunches only to lie back flat.

 

Eventually a puku came into our view as it crossed the road from Sahara and into Chobe. Loma gave the puku a helping hand by standing up… while it hadn’t spotted the lions it knew something was there. Kwandi shot forward in a crouched run, but the game was up and the puku was gone.

 

Following the intrepid duo further east they eventually ended up in one of their favoured thickets on the borders of Sahara and Chobe.

 

Having spent all morning with Kwandi and Loma, we stopped in with the others after breakfast. Kela’s snoring was the only point of note as she disturbed the others continually but slept on deeply herself; the noise forcing Rusha to move to a neighbouring bush and Temi looked thoroughly hacked off after being woken up for the umpteenth time.

 

 

 








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