Over the last few weeks since Rusha left the pride to den on the 20th June, it’s been a bit topsy-turvy in the Dambwa release site. Soon after Rusha went AWOL, Temi soon followed suit – but after a few days she resurfaced from the northern boundary a little chubbier, no doubt having feasted on an impala and getting to keep it all to herself. Well done Temi.
With Rusha still keeping a low profile towards the end of June, Zulu’s attentions fell on Kwandi. He had mated with her sister Kela only a few weeks earlier, and for several days Kwandi didn’t show much interest but Zulu was certainly not letting her out of his sights. Then on the 29th June the pair began mating. Which means there could be two litters from the K sister on the way in the coming months. For Kela we are looking at mid-to-late September birth with Kwandi following suit early-to-mid-October.
With Rusha's departure from the pride, Temi's renewed vigour for solo hunting and Zulu's amorous attentions towards the K sisters, it's been an incredibly busy time for the research team in Dambwa. Luckily there has been an additional pair of eyes and hands to help out in the form of Morgan Kirzinger who interned with the Livingstone team for three months from May to July. Morgan's been on-hand to witness and record some very exciting behaviour from the pride, and we've beneitted immensely from the additional support to our research efforts. Click the link if you are keen to join us as a research intern.
For the initial three weeks after we suspected Rusha was denning, she returned to the pride at periodic intervals to socialise with her pride mates, or to hunt – and of course feed. This in turn gave us the opportunity to assess her condition and try to confirm that she was indeed nursing. While still in good condition she has lost some weight which is to be expected with the extra energy it requires to produce milk for hungry cubs. But even more compelling is that her nipples have very clear dark circles around them from where the cubs have been suckling. With excitement growing that somewhere in the site the first semi-wild-born Zambian cubs were hidden, we tried our best to temper such feeling with restraint.
On Thursday 18th July we found Rusha with Zulu and Kwandi in the West of the site; all three were sporting blood stains on their coats and flies on their noses, a sure sign that they had recently eaten. Zulu took a bit of time out to greet his baby mama before we set off to look for the rest of the pride reassured with the knowledge that Rusha is continuing to hunt and feed - and therefore produce milk.
Zulu, Kwandi and Rusha on the 19th July
Kela, Leya and Loma were having a bit of a moment in Bwizu just West of water pan 2; as they passed the vehicle on their way to the boundary road they wobbled and swayed as they greeted one another over and over again as they walked side by side. With Temi still to find we left the trio and headed to one of Temi’s favourite areas over the last few weeks; the Northern boundary tree-line.
Reaching the North Eastern end of the site we picked up a moderate signal for her. So, confident she was in hiding – either waiting to ambush some unsuspecting impala, or already filling her stomach on one - we headed back to the happy KL trio by pan 2. We found them a little further East than we had left them, with Leya completely out of sight (but could be heard rummaging around in the treeline) and Loma and Kela slumped on the road.
Kela and Loma
We were expecting this to be the status quo for the remainder of the afternoon when Loma stood and walked into the treeline. Now with only Kela in view we were starting to consider that we had possibly picked the wrong group to spend the afternoon with. But then Loma re-emerged… 20 or so metres up in the air climbing a tree. Stopping for a moment on the central branch, she then leapt a few feet to an even higher one and stood surveying her territory. Whether just for fun, or having more purpose in mind and perhaps looking for higher ground to scout some game, she certainly seemed very at home on her perch.
Loma - looking for game? Or just takiing a few moments to get away from it all?
But the acrobatic display was soon over and she slid back down to earth, and moments later Kela began heading East, followed by Loma, then Leya and quite out of the blue with Temi tacked on the end of the group! The four wove along the road before coming to rest on the edge of Sahara. They stopped for a few minutes before setting off, once more led by Kela, into the tall grasses and towards Temi's favourite impala zone.
The following morning (19th) all seven lions were back together in Kariba. It was a very slow morning, with barely any movement or interaction between the pride taking place. In fact they slept so soundly that by mid-morning deep snores could be heard coming from the middle of the group (most likely offender being Kwandi).
By Sunday the 21st Temi was once more flying solo and we found her walking the road between Chisamu and Tsavo. Looking well-fed, she’s clearly loving the conditions in the site at the moment and taking full advantage of the hunting opportunities. The prints we’ve been able to monitor on the road system around the site seem to suggest that she is meeting up with the pride overnight – but obviously at some point is leaving to return to her hunting grounds. We've witnessed this sort of behaviour from Temi over several time periods during the pride's almost two year release. She's incredibly instrumental to the pride's co-operative hunting strategy - usually the lion who goes out on the wing to initiate a chase and drive the game towards the line of lions waiting in ambush - but we also know that she is low down the pecking order at feeds. With so many mouths to feed at a kill or scavenge, when conditions are prime she makes sure she has no competition for food.
Tuesday 23rd and the six - minus Temi once more - were close to waterpan 1 that afternoon. All were sporting blood stains on their coats and flies pestered them continually for the blood around their muzzles. Once again, it was a lazy afternoon. Rusha we noted however was especially alert. Only ever resting for a few minutes at a time before sitting bolt upright, eyes wide and scanning in all directions.
Rusha, getting restless in the late afternoon sun
By the end of the afternoon she was becoming increasingly restless. Initially moving off from the group about 20-30m, before scent marking and returning to the others. Sitting for a few minutes, Rusha stood once more and made a point of walking up to each lion and sniffing them before walking off a little distance and scent marking again. Whilst we can only guess at what was going on, the distinct impression seemed to be one of wanting to leave, but of some hesitation to do so. Perhaps she wanted us to go away before she did so, perhaps she wanted to make sure the rest of her pride didn't follow her. Or she may have even wanted her pride to follow. We don't know, but we decided to take ourselves out of the equation and let her do whatever she needed to do.