A month to remember
August 28 2014

The Lappets escape the RS cubs' attentions

The remnants from an overnight impala kill and its associated vultures were a source of massive interest for the RS cubs, most especially RS1 and RS3, on the morning of the 30th July. One suspects RS2 may have been equally interested had he not being weighted down that morning by a fairly hefty limp on his front left leg; perhaps as a result of getting too brazen in trying to get a share of the impala the previous night? The following morning we found the pride had shifted location, slightly to the West, and were now mostly concealed by the tall grass. Sightings of the lions were poor that day but as they moved into shade later on we did discover the discarded bits and pieces from another kill which had been more than thoroughly chewed over.

The 3rd of August found the pride in two groups. Initially Zulu was with Leya, their cubs, Loma, Kela and Kwandi in Sahara. We didn’t have to drive too far however to find Rusha, her cubs and Temi making their way along the Eastern Road before turning and cutting through Sahara and joining the rest of the pride. While we can only speculate as to what the RS/TE group had been up to, a scattered herd of impala in Tsavo, close to where we’d first spotted them, gave us hope Temi and Rusha had been continuing the RS cubs’ tuition in how to be a predator. They all certainly had the stomachs to suggest a successful few days.

Over mid-August the pride were subject to a couple of visits from a film crew from BBC Earth, who were at Lion Encounter for a couple of weeks focusing on stages one and two at the Livingstone project. The pride provided the cameras with some phenomenal footage. We won’t ruin the end product – but we will keep you updated on an airing date, which will likely be early next year.

Leya guards the feeding cubs on the 15th

Another victim provided the pride with breakfast on the 15th August. While Leya guarded both the LE and RS cubs as they fed, Zulu generously left them to it and wandered off for better part of the morning, and could be heard calling intermittently. It wasn’t his usual full throated, bone rattling roar but a rather mournful call – perhaps lamenting his reduced share at meals these days on account of his numerous offspring.

The 21st once more saw a return to the tall grasses of Kariba, and a difficult day’s viewing. The odd glimpse here and there of swollen bellies showed that Leya continues to keep her cubs well fed who are now rapidly growing – and in spite of signs back in June of being weaned, are still being allowed regular access to milk.

Apart from a brief spell over the end of June, Leya is showing no signs of weaning the litter...yet!

An early morning trip into the site the following day found the lions absolutely everywhere. With the weather now rapidly heading summer-bound these early session are essential in continuing to get valuable social data. We first encountered Loma leading Zulu and Kwandi West along the main road. Rushing to find everyone before the sun began to warm up, we next found Leya and her cubs playing around Grand Canyon; a major junction in the site crossed with a river bed.

L-R LE2, LE3 and LE1

Heading further East, Rusha and her cohort were in typical mischievous form with the RS cubs hiding from mum in the tall grasses around Bwizu. Halting her move after realising she was suddenly missing her three shadows, she made a U-turn and began calling softly to them. Unbeknownst to her, they were all three poised for ambush a few metres away.

RS2 watches Rusha's search before all three hide and ambush

RS1 launched the chase with her siblings not too far behind. We quickly lost sight of the family, but our last visual of them was of a besieged Rusha; one cub riding on her back, another ankle tapping her and the third biting her bum. But Rusha loves a bit of play and she as usual took her cubs’ bombardment in her stride. Still missing two members of the pride, we travelled further East and discovered Temi and Kela in Tsavo. As usual Temi was a cat with a mission, and we didn’t stay long as she dismissed us with barely a glance leaving little doubt she was on the prowl for breakfast and didn’t need our noisy vehicle’s help, thank you very much.

Having completed the head count, we headed back West and found Leya marching away from waterpan 3 whilst the cubs remained. Telemetry indicated Rusha wasn’t too far away so we kept an eye on the LE cubs whilst awaiting the RS family. We didn’t have to wait long before cub chaos reigned. It’s unlikely the litters had been apart too long (maybe a few hours, or overnight at most) but as usual with all meetings between these six there was a squirming, clawing, jumping, biting mass of greetings and play. Rusha continued West, more or less following Leya’s earlier path. The cubs remained at the Pan for a little while longer drinking and playing before leader-in-the -making RS3 led the cohort in their mothers’ wake.

Having had such a good month, things came to grinding halt towards the end of August. We did mark the pride’s three year anniversary of their release on the 26th August – but the day passed in typical lion sedate form. On the 27th however it was impossible not to reminisce about the last three years. Despite another fairly inactive morning the contrast between that of the 27th three years ago and now was poignant. The morning after their release, we found the six young female lions patrolling their new territory, stomachs full of wildebeest. Three years to the day later and the pride was once more on patrol; the girls now leading a pride more than doubled in size.

Then: our first sighting of the newly-released pride - Leya, Rusha and Loma 27th August 2011

And now: the Dambwa train weaves it way through the site 27th August 2014

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