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.


Hunting in the green freshness of a post storm Dambwa

9 12 2011

On the 6th the pride had split into three groups, spread throughout the site; Loma and Leya were near water pan one, Rusha and Temi were at pan 2 while Kela and Kwandi were lounging around in Tsavo. We spent most of the day with the K sisters, being the most alert we thought there might be some chance of a bit of action from them at some point whilst the other remained comatose.

We were rewarded at mid-morning with a hunt. As we arrived after the breakfast break we found Kwandi alone on Tsavo; Kela’s signal was still in the area, but suggested she was quite some distance away. Kwandi’s eyes were locked on a herd of 30-odd impala milling around obliviously on the plain in front of her. There was relatively little cover for her to utilise, but undeterred she marched straight out into clear sight. Now, Kwandi’s a very good hunter and was so even as a cub (she made Livingstone’s first ever kill, and followed it up with three more before retirement from walking) – but even for her, this seemed like a lot of faith in her hunting abilities. And very quickly, sure enough the impala spotted her and gave a warning snort.

But she soldiered on nonetheless; now not even bothering to hunker down into a crouch but walking brazenly up to them. As they started to panic and move off she went into a slow chase just as Kela appeared racing out of the tall grass from the other side of the herd. Kwandi’s strategy was now clear – show herself and panic the herd into her sister’s direction who must have flanked around the entire section of the site as Kwandi bided her time in preparation. It nearly worked too, but the girls were just a fraction too early in their execution.

The 7th we were kept out of the site by the weather.  We attempted to enter in the afternoon, a few hours following the storm, but after 200m it became very clear we were going nowhere and nowhere quickly – except back out of the site.

Luckily the bad weather held off long enough for the area to dry out sufficiently for us to make a trip into the site the next morning. All six lions were back together near the main road through Kariba, resting throughout the morning the only point of note was when Loma, Leya and Rusha were panicked out of their slumber when a rotten branch fell out of the tree they were resting under, barely missing Rusha and Leya.

After breakfast we found them in more or less the same spot, but they had been joined by a waterbuck. We stopped a good 100m away from the lions and could see that Kela and Kwandi were already vigilant to the waterbuck, which was quite obliviously ambling along towards the Sanga boundary. Within seconds of our arrival Kela was up and stalking, swiftly closing the 120m distance between herself and the waterbuck – who still had not even the slightest inkling of the doom that was looming.

Kela was about half way across the area when Kwandi and Rusha stood and began to approach – at a slower rate, and within the blink of an eye Kela was right on its tail, literally only 10m away. The waterbuck never turned around but at that point seemed to spook and charged off to join some impala and zebra that were grazing 200m away. Kela watched on, but only stalked a little further before returning to the pride.


There’s no such thing as a free lunch – but how are you fixed for dinner?

27 10 2011

After Rusha’s disappearing act on the 24th, we promptly lost all of the lions on the 26th. Entering the site in the early morning their signals led us to the same clump of bushes as Rusha’s had the previous day. All six signals were emitting from the thicket, and if you squinted really hard (stood on one leg and muttered several curses) you could just about make out what was probably the white fur of a lion’s belly. Following several hours of staring at this bush, hoping it would magically disappear and six lions would present themselves – we gave up for the day. With the sun strengthening it was incredibly unlikely they were going to leave their shady spot until into the evening.

But the plus side was that Rusha was back with the rest of the girls.

Two lions were spotted overnight by Dambwa security staff making their way East up the Sanga boundary.  On the 25th we headed in this general direction but the telemetry was receiving a great deal of interference from a lightning storm several miles away. Trying to discern what was the actual signal and what was interference was tricky. But we tracked them down to Tsavo – including the elusive Rusha, who was none the worse for her solitary jaunt.

A flurry of social interactions between the KLs started the observations off; Rusha and Temi watched this performance until Rusha too was drawn into the melee when Kwandi came over and bumped heads. Soon all six were resting again, until Kela and Leya sat staring transfixed by a small tornado winding its way towards their location. We’ve seen numerous small twisters in the site over the last few weeks but never when we’ve been with the pride; it’s either been as we travel the site to and from their location or on game counts. Their eyes grew bigger at the swirling column of twisting leaves and dust, and given half a chance no doubt Leya would try and chase it, but they barely flinched as it passed 30 metres away.

While all this was going on a second team had entered the site to drop the pride’s first scavenge opportunity since being released. Scavenging can contribute from zero to 81% of a wild lion’s diet and is a natural behaviour we encourage from time to time in a release pride, but is not naturally available in this setting. As we stayed with the lions, the second vehicle dropped a carcass off in Bwizu; far enough away that the lions didn’t see, hear or smell a thing.

Just before sunset we left them until re-entering the site at 1900 for a late night observation. Suspicions were piqued as we entered the site; if the lions were still in Tsavo we wouldn’t hear anything on the telemetry, but from previous experience we know that we receive a very faint echo of their signals from the Bwizu area. And that’s what we were getting – so we made straight for Bwizu, and lo-and-behold six lions were gorging themselves silly – it appeared that they had only found it 15 to 20 minutes before we found them.

The earlier storm, while not over the release site, was still playing out in the background and with the lions cast in the red beam of a filtered spotlight the light show in the sky made for an eerie setting.

After an hour or so, Leya and Kela took a break from the buffet and engaged in a couple of social interactions putting last week’s tensions after the oestrus-fest out of mind and cleaning blood from each other’s faces. But all Kela’s hard work scrubbing Leya up was undone when she went back in and stole a leg to feed on.

Just before 2100h, we left them huffing and gruffing at each other over the few remaining scraps.

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