Left-overs anyone?

2 11 2011

A wildebeest prevented the Dambwa pride from any Halloween shenanigans as they gorged themselves until they were the size and shape of pumpkins. By the end of the day, Rusha and Temi were slumped at Pan 3 and the KLs were incapacitated in the Sanga boundary, close to the carcass.

Today (2nd) Kela, Kwandi, Leya and Loma were first found heading south across Kariba. Initially we were picking up Rusha’s signal too, but as the KLs made their way steadily across the area, Rusha’s signal steadily grew quieter and quieter. We decided to stick with the four girls and see where they were headed and catch up with Rusha and Temi later.

They made a beeline for the carcass from the 31st, which still had a bit of dry-looking meat to it. Kwandi hogged the remains initially; every once in a while she’d stop and call softly in the direction from which the foursome had arrived – presumably to Rusha and Temi but neither replied or appeared. After 20 minutes or so, Kwandi left the carcass and went to clean her paws at which point Loma took over the remains. She only ate for a moment or two before dragging it over to where Kwandi and her sister, Leya, were sitting. She first groomed Leya’s face, then greeted Kwandi and then left the carcass to go and sit with Kela a few metres away as the other pair took control back of the food.

All this was being watched by a lone hooded vulture; who was eventually joined a few trees further down by a juvenile bateleur eagle who’d been practicing its aerial skills to the right of our truck. After a few minutes the juvenile began to make a fairly noisy racket; and as Mother swooped in with a mouse clutched between her talons it was clear why. As the juvenile bateleur began to feed the hooded vulture swooped over to try and steal – but Mother B was too quick and chased the vulture off.

And then we remembered we were meant to be watching the lions…

Kela had been fairly low key for most of the session until about half way through when she led the group on a second move further into the boundary and West. Luckily there was one – narrow – road through this area that we could just about keep tabs on them from.

As they settled we went off to look for Rusha and Temi and it wasn’t until we reached Chisamu that we finally started getting a strong signal for Rusha. After much checking under various bushes we eventually caught up with her sitting in a bush on top of an anthill; calling and looking restless. At first there was no signal for Temi but after a few minutes of Rusha’s vocalising we began picking up a very weak signal from her collar.

After breakfast we found that the pair had reunited and were now both sitting on top of the sheltered anthill resting. Rusha looked a lot less agitated than when we’d seen her earlier and the pair slept on throughout the morning. The KLs also caught up on some beauty sleep, remaining in the same spot in the boundary for the remainder of the day; all that walking earlier on must have taken it out of them.


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.


26 10 2011

By the 22nd the Kela and Kwandi were back with the rest of their pride, in Bwizu. Neither seemed to be showing the strong signs of heat of the previous few days, but both were restless, fidgeting incessantly, and were much more alert than their companions.


A wildebeest was missing from our game count today; none of the lions appeared to be very heavy but there was definitely one less than the day before and so we had to assume they had killed it soon after we left on the 21st and had had several hours to digest it already.


The morning of the 23rd and everyone was close to pan one in Kariba. Within minutes of our arrival Leya had initiated a mass greeting session among the pride. She wasn’t displaying to quite the same degree as Kela had previously nor was there any purring; but being a usual greetee rather than greeter, the gusto with which she greeted everyone – Kwandi, and her sister Loma, on several occasions – all within the space of a minute suggests she may too be coming into heat. Somewhat ironic considering her reaction to Kela only a few days ago.


By mid-morning a herd of grazing zebra 200m away from the lions was causing no small amount of interest. The zebra were oblivious to the lions presence and continued grazing for the entire mid-morning session; luckily for them while they had several pairs of eyes trained on them it was clearly too hot for the lions to do much more than watch their every move from the comfort of the shade.



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.




Things have been very quiet in Dambwa of late

12 10 2011

Having made a kill over the weekend on a wildebeest, Monday saw everyone resting in the pride’s favourite spot in Chobe – all day. Barely an eye opened or ear twitched.

By Tuesday, Kela, Kwandi, Loma and Leya were busy relaxing in Kariba near waterpan 1 with the remains of a freshly killed wildebeest close by. Temi and Rusha’s signals led us to the Sanga Boundary on the opposite side of the site. As no visual could be obtained of the pair we couldn’t confirm if they too had eaten from this latest kill. The KL grouping had already finished feeding by the time we arrived, and with the state of the carcass suggesting the kill had been made the evening before Rusha and Temi certainly had time to have eaten overnight and move off; but it was an awfully long way to walk on such a full stomach…

By the morning of the 12th everyone was back together again in Chisamu – not surprisingly sleeping.  As temperatures have continued to rise over the month, activity levels have dropped to the point that they are now practically non-existent. Even social interactions are a distant memory, in the past week we’ve witnessed less than half a dozen of these in total.

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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