Fighting back
April 14 2014

Early in the month on the afternoon of the 4th the entire pride was found just getting going from the Kariba area of the site. As Kela led the pride towards the main road Zulu initially hung back with Leya’s cubs and indulged himself in a little bully-boy behaviour, pinning one cub to the ground with a huge paw. A lesson in dominance and discipline had the young trio scampering for the nearest cover and Zulu set off to catch up with his pride, who in the end had only moved 150m or so.

Sat in the middle of the road as the RS cubs played with and drank from a puddle, this would usually be a fantastic spot from which to observe the group. But with the grass as it is at this time of year, really all that could be seen was an assortment of body parts through gaps in the vegetation.

If the 4th was frustrating, the morning of the 6th was an exercise in futility. The pride’s signals were located to the south of Grand Canyon – pretty close to Leya’s original den site. It was unknown if either set of cubs was present with the seven signals, as with 13 lions now in the pride we didn’t spot a single one all day as they remained resolutely hidden in thick bush.

RS1 on the 8th

A little better luck – although not much – was forthcoming on the 8th when Temi, Rusha, Kwandi and Zulu’s signals were detected in the East of the site. A scampering RS2 and RS3 gave the location away as bits and pieces of lions could just about be made out in a favoured clearing. Leya, Loma and Kela however were in the West, somewhere in the tall grasses of Kariba. We picked up strong signals for them but elected not to look further as this would involve driving through grass which reached over the top of the research vehicle. With visibility so low and such small cubs around, one wrong move could have been disastrous.

So it was back to the East to spend the morning with the other grouping. Despite the first chill airs of winter starting to permeate the region, this change in climate did nothing for the lions’ behaviour. A brief jump on dad’s back was about all the RS cubs could manage and most of the morning was spent peering through swaying blades of grass for very little reward.

Zulu and fan club

Compounding frustations on the 9th, this time the adults were stuffed in a pile on the edge of a bush in Kariba; for about five minutes they remained visible - before one by one stuffing themselves out of sight in aforementioned bush... Finally, luck changed on the 11th as we found all 13 at waterpan 3 - even if Temi, Loma and Kwandi were only noticiable by their collars’ signals the visible 10 made up for what had been a trying week. At approximately 10 weeks old, Leya’s trio are becoming bolder, more playful and mobile and more recognisable through both their markings and individual traits and we spent the morning getting to know these characteristics, as well as seeing how the RS cubs were now responding to their new siblings.

LE1, gets some airtime after a morning's hearty feed

LE1 (m) is definitely the boss of the litter; a serious little soul he hasn’t shown the same degree of interest in play as his siblings at this stage, preferring to hone his attentions on the important business of feeding. However, he’s not above a bit play from time to time, especially if it gains him a better vantage point.

LE2, bold and feisty - like her mum

LE2 (f) the lone girl in the litter is a feisty little madam. Not only does she have two brothers to contend with but also the keen interests of the RS cubs … But if anything, what she lacks at the moment in physical stature she more than makes up for with confidence. She’s also a big fan of Kela often spending time resting next to or grooming her aunt, if not next to her mother.

LE3 is the spitting image of RS2 at the same age

He's also not afraid to give back as good as he gets

LE3 (m), already the spitting image of RS2 at this age, is the second and paler male in the litter and doesn’t seem to have any fear. He most frequently wanders away from the protection of Leya, which more often than not makes him the target of the RS cubs’ interest. But if anything, he actually seems to go looking for trouble and on the morning of the 11th he seemed to initiate at least as many ambushes on his older siblings as they did on him – and put up a fairly impressive fight each time.

As the LE cubs gang up on Kela, RS1 gets in for a closer look

As for the RS cubs, their overly enthusiastic play of the litters’ first few meetings seems to have quietened somewhat – no doubt after a telling off or two from Leya. But RS1’s eyes practically bug out of her head at the merest movement from any of the LE cubs. The RS girls are definitely the most playful with the youngsters at this stage, but their play seems to have been moderated to soft bites, gentle paw slaps and bear hugs. RS2 is already his father’s son and really doesn’t seem to care less, until one of the younger cubs walks past him – he’ll occasionally raise a lazy paw to give a half-hearted ankle tap.

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LE1 walks into RS1 and RS3's trap

The afternoon of the 13th was a cool and fresh one, and this change in seasons is doing wonders for the lions’ activity levels. At first we could only see Temi in Kariba, but signals from her pride mates suggested the others too were right under our noses, but look as we might we couldn’t see anything until Rusha appeared and greeted Temi, as the younger lioness called softly. Temi’s calls served to put the wind up Loma and she came gallivanting out of the tall grass towards the pair at a rate of knots and the trio bounded up the road and disappeared out of sight. Coming to investigate the commotion, Kela and Leya soon emerged, followed by Kwandi and Zulu. The other three were long gone by the time these four had rallied themselves and Kela led a half-hearted search before they all collapsed on the road again.

On the search for Loma, Rusha and Temi

With this grouping now stationary, we set off to look for the high-spirited Loma, Rusha and Temi. It took some time to find them and they’d made it all the way to the top of the Lusaka Road between Sahara and Chisamu before we finally stumbled across Loma sitting in the road. A search a minute or two more along the road found Rusha and Temi in suspiciously predatory form circling a thicket. Just as it seemed they were preparing to launch the assault, Loma arrived on the scene panting heavily and alerting the impala to the lions’ presence. As the group resettled back out on the road some 15 minutes later, they were joined by Leya, Kela, Kwandi and Zulu. We’d had a fairly frantic afternoon trying to keep track of them all in the grass - so when they all finally ran out of steam and collapsed in the road, it was something of a relief.

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