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…

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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)





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…





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…





A look at their form…

14 08 2011

The Dambwa pride already has a formidable track record and blistering form; we have every confidence that they will be able to sustain themselves upon release.  On regular forays into the site the girls have refused to come home to their enclosure and made a kill overnight when we went to find them in the following morning.  On 26th August we will cease trying to encourage them back to the enclosure, but will leave them out in their natural environment to look after themselves.

Kwandi made her first kill on 5th March 2009 when she caught a cane rat on a morning walk.  In July of that year she killed two waterbuck, 11 days apart, and soon after took a duiker.  Rusha on the other hand found a liking for baboon, including occasionally climbing into trees to flush them out.  She took three; in January and February 2010 and another in August of the same year.  She also caught and killed a monitor lizard in February 2010.  Temi caught a waterbuck when she was only 11 months old in September 2009, following up later that month with an impala.  Later she also took a baboon and a further impala.

But it is Leya who is the undisputed queen of the hunt.  At thirteen months old she caught herself an impala, but followed that up soon after by taking down a four metre tall giraffe.  Not content with that she went on a few months later to take a second giraffe before moving onto a successful wildebeest hunting career.

Whilst no kills can be attributed specifically to either Kela or Loma, they have been present on a number of successful hunts that have been made within the Dambwa site during their pre-release training.  The pride has successfully hunted wildebeest, impala and puku in the site, with wildebeest being the favoured prey.

It is not just the number of kills that is impressive but also the variety of species taken, each requiring different approaches.  We are confident that this pride is well prepared for the challenges ahead.








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