It was Christmas Eve when the research team entered the Dambwa release site to check on the water pans, before setting out to find the pride. The team drove down the main road of the release site toward the ‘Sahara’ area where they soon picked up the lions’ signals on the telemetry set. Sure enough, the pride was there in Sahara, with Zulu leading a procession. In the back, the RS sub-adults were stopping occasionally to scratch nearby trees to sharpen their young claws.
Taking advantage of the cooler weather, LE3, RS1, and RS3 were jumping on their aunties and mothers during their trek. After jotting down notes of the exciting activity, the research team looked up and the pride had disappeared! Looping back, with the telemetry set in hand, the team searched for the train of lions through the ever growing trees.
The research team espied the lions far from the road, and they soon disappeared into the undergrowth again. Due to the recent rains, the research team can’t drive off road at the moment as the vehicle would definitely get stuck in the thick black cotton soil that covers much of the site. Trying to anticipate the lions’ movement they carried on down the main road that cuts through the release site toward the ‘Kariba’ area where there is a cross-road that would meet the lions – or so they hoped. However, after 15 minutes of driving around there was no visual of the lions. When taking another road, out of nowhere, there were the lions, on the road in the ‘Sibaka’ area, as if someone placed them there. Quickly collecting data before they could vanish again, the research team did a head count of who was present. There were only ten! After looking around, one of the missing lions, RS2, came running up from the rear to catch up with the rest of the group, which was still on the move. Then the other missing lion, RS1, caught up, with an unusual object in her mouth. Somewhere along their travels she had found a present – a tortoise! She carried it very proudly, and occasionally would stop under some shade to try and pry it open, but then would see the pride getting further away and would joyfully jog to catch up, tortoise in mouth. Ah, but, when she got a little too close, LE3 noticed this present she had, and wanted it. He chased after her but RS1 made it clear that she was not sharing!
Once the pride finally decided to settle RS1 slowly made her way over to join them. Instantly, the other sub-adults were curious to what their pride fellow had. LE2 and RS2 were watching her intently, with RS3 going into stalking mode. Once RS3 pounced on her sister, they wrestled for a few moments but RS1 would not give up her present! Unfortunately, it didn’t seem it was the season of giving for the tortoise!
About the Dambwa Lion Release Site
The 6 adults (1 male and 5 females) of the ‘Dambwa Pride’ were captive born and released into the ‘Dambwa Lion Release Site’ in 2011, having been walked in the rehabilitation phase of the ex situ conservation project, the African Rehabilitation and Release into the Wild Programme. The pride’s 6 offspring (3 male and 3 females) were born in the site and have had no human contact, display natural behaviours, and are intended for release into the wild in the final phase of the Programme.
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