Turning up the heat

7 10 2011

The 5th was a rather slow day. The entire pride was on Tsavo sleeping as if it was the last chance they’d ever get to sleep. To be fair, it was an incredibly hot and humid day and things did liven up – albeit briefly – when Leya spotted some baboons on the other side of the boundary fence. While the others slept on, she trained her gaze on the troop who must have realised the lions were no threat with a fence in the way and paraded themselves up and down brazenly.

The 6th was quite a different matter.

Entering the site we found Kela, Kwandi and Leya on Kariba. Their reaction to our approach was quite startling. Usually the lions either ignore our vehicle or at most look at it before returning to rest. But on hearing the engine the three were up on their feet and greeting one another very enthusiastically and moaning softly to each other. Despite the rather warm welcome as they approached we moved the vehicle well and truly out the way and the girls eventually settled back down. Despite Kela only being in heat last week, it appeared now that all three possibly were.

Leaving this loved-up trio, we set off to look for the others. The girls are very rarely apart and we fully expected to find the rest of the pride close by, but we travelled further and further into the site with no signal. It wasn’t until we reached the top of Chobe that we began to pick up Rusha, who we eventually located to one of the pride’s favoured thickets in this area. Even more surprising was that she was on her own and not with the other two.

Within minutes of our arrival though Rusha was up and moving East and lead us about 200m away to Temi and Loma who were relaxing in the tall grass of Chisamu.

We could only make out the tops of their heads in the grass, but much clearer were the dozen hooded and white backed vultures in the trees surrounding them – there was also an obvious kill site with still-wet blood closer to the road. Repositioning the vehicle at some considerable effort, we finally saw a wildebeest leg protruding out of the grass behind Temi.

Later in the morning and the KL trio were still in Kariba, but this time paid us no attention. Their sights were firmly set instead on a lone puku grazing some 80m away.

Completely unaware of the lions’ presence she continued making her way across the area. There were a couple of false starts, and the lions would twitch in anticipation to start stalking but it was almost 10 minutes later that Kela began stalking towards it. She only made it 15 metres before sitting herself back down behind an anthill and continued the watch.

Almost half an hour after we arrived and the puku had moved almost 180 degrees around the lions from its original position and at this point Kwandi stalked… but only 10m.

Loma, Rusha and Temi meanwhile had hauled their carcass an impressive 100m away from its earlier location into a more sheltered spot. Lions will naturally try and hide their kills to avoid detection by competitors and Loma kept a watchful eye on us throughout the morning.

Next a game count was due. We knew they’d caught a wildebeest but the grass had been too high earlier to determine whether it was an adult or sub-adult. By mid-morning, not enough was left and the view was too obscured to determine age class. So we went off in search of the herds and determined the trio had got themselves one of the few remaining sub-adults.

The Dambwa girls earn their stripes

4 10 2011

Recently the lions have been spending a lot time in the Sahara area of the site digesting all the wildebeest from earlier in the week.  On the morning of the 29th Loma and Rusha were missing from the group’s favoured spot in this area. Having found the other four a stone’s throw away from where they’d spent all day on the 28th the absentees’ signals led us to neighbouring Chisamu. Try as we might however, we just couldn’t get a visual of them.

Returning to Kela, Kwandi, Leya and Temi it wasn’t long before we heard the gentle calling of a lost lion. Making her way through the grass was Loma. The closer she got the more apparent the rather fresh blood on her face became and after several greetings to her pride mates she flopped down and the stomach size told the rest of the story. Ten minutes later and Rusha repeated the process; complete with rouged cheeks.

None of the other lions bore these tell-tale signs, and with Loma and Rusha being two of the weakest hunters in the pride, it’s encouraging to see that they can pool their collective efforts and come up with something even if they don’t have the star hunters like Leya, Kwandi and Temi around. Game counts later that day suggest their victim was impala.

By afternoon the main order of the day was of course rest. That was until Kela woke up…

Having come into oestrus on the 27th she was still troubling Leya and throughout the afternoon Kela would rush over to her, lie on top of her, run off, roll around on her back for a bit, before repeating the process over and over again. The sounds coming from Leya’s direction made it clear she was enjoying this extra attention about as much as you’d enjoy having teeth pulled.

On the 1st October, their signals led us to Chobe – and straight to the same thicket they’d been in on the 8th September. On that occasion we’d just been able to make out their forms and that of a wildebeest carcass. Today however they were so deep into it no visual could be made. What we could see however were a couple hooded vultures perched close by; but the terrain made it impossible for us to get to their location. So it was time for another game count.

So far we’ve seen the lions mainly target the wildebeest with the odd puku and impala thrown in for variety’s sake. On the game count we found that there was a zebra missing; the pride’s first since being released. After completing the count we returned to the source of the lions’ signals but nothing could be seen or heard. Still, it didn’t take Miss Marple to work out that one missing zebra plus vultures close by to the lions’ location is likely to equal six very full bellies.

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