With a bit of a question mark over Rusha's behaviour lingering from the previous afternoon, we were a little surprised to find her with the pride again on the afternoon of the 24th. We initially found her sitting a metre or two from Zulu close to Pan 3, with Kela a little distance away from them. Kwandi, Loma and Leya were a further 100m or so away still, close to Grand Canyon.
Once again we were minus Temi, and so set off to locate her. The best we were able to manage was a strong signal emitting from Kulibe - a thick network of bushes in the South East corner of the site.
Returning to the main group, we found everyone had shifted to water pan 3. An overwhelming KL grooming session was underway with Loma the central feature, literally being groomed to within an inch of her life by sister Leya, and half-sisters Kela and Kwandi.
Loma - surrounded by sister Leya, and Kela and Kwandi
Rusha, who had been resting about 20m away from this particular display, rose and ambled through the group. This in turn roused the KLs up and Rusha, Kela, Kwandi and Loma headed East through Puku Dambo. Leya gave half a minute's thought to just staying put, but soon decided to jump on the end of the train. Zulu watched as the five wove through shrubs and patches of tall grass until eventually conceding he may miss something and decided he best go along too.
Loma, Leya, Kwandi, Rusha and Kela
Passing through Bwizu, it became clear that Rusha was pulling out a bit of lead over her pride mates. She wasn't exactly walking fast, but there was definitely some purpose to her stride until she was about 50m ahead of them. Bearing left through Sahara she propelled the pride out onto the Northern boundary road.
All of a sudden, half-way along Sahara she veered off the road and into the boundary. Sitting on the edge of the treeline, the KLs and Zulu evenutally caught up to her and sat in the road about 20m away. Once everyone was settled, Rusha stood once more and walked deeper into the treeline. Two noises in short succession followed, that could have been birds or several other things, but got ours and the rest of the pride's attention. Kwandi stood and followed Rusha's path into the thick forest.
Kwandi re-emerged a few minutes later... and a few minutes after that a third sound was heard. It wasn't birds - it was the calling of cubs. Leya chose this exact monumental moment to lead the other KLs a little further East to start hunting impala. With one eye trying to keep up with the hunt and another eye trained on a very alert Zulu and the bushes in front of him, in all honesty the hunt was all but forgotten when the crying became louder and louder and Rusha emerged from the bushes towards Zulu.
Seconds after Rusha appeared one and then two cubs came screeching out of the treeline after her. Scrambling around her feet damanding more milk, they were then joined by cub number three. RS1, 2 and 3 have now joined the Dambwa pride.
Rusha waits by the boundary road for RS1, RS2 and RS3
RS1, who along with her siblings we believe to be now five-weeks old, is by far the nosiest and appears to be the boldest of the litter
We don't think this is the first time Rusha has brought her cubs out to the pride. In the initial weeks after denning her signal persistently came from thickets in the centre of the site, a fair distance from the Northern boundary. On top of that, certain behavioural observations from the other members of the pride seem to suggest this wasn't their first encounter.
As Rusha began to move along the road to join her sisters, who had by now given up on the hunt, the cubs raced towards Zulu. How would the new dad deal with the newest members of the pride? We waited with baited breath for his reaction... It was of utter panic. As RS1 led the charge towards Zulu, he bolted several metres down the road before stopping and turning to look and the crying bundles of fluff threatening to overwhelm him. But again, he took off as they got close. The reason for this is likely not that Zulu is in fact terrified of his new offspring - more of heir mother.
RS1 makes a beeline for Zulu, as he tries to get away Rusha tries to round up the litter
The cubs want to see dad!
Rusha was seen hissing at Zulu when the cubs got too close and Zulu has been sporting a couple of fresh scratches over the last few days - it seems likely that he got a bit too close for Rusha's comfort on a previous meeting and felt the firm end of her wrath for his troubles. With the cubs only being five weeks (we suspect the litter comprises two females and one male but still need to confirm this 100%) this was a fantastically early sighting, but we don't expect to see them again on a regular basis for some weeks as yet.
Either way, the Dambwa release pride is growing....