Giving the pride the run around
June 11 2018

In the Dambwa release site, the pride is successfully utilising all aspects of their ecosystem in order to thrive. Over the past few months, the lions have had many successful pride movements following vultures that have led them to scavenge opportunities.  Each success is a chance to learn more about the ecological benefits the presence of these birds of prey provide.

Vultures, also known as nature’s garbage men, feed on animal carcasses rather than live prey.  Not only can they be a signal of a carcass available for scavenging by lions, they also help to clean up any leftovers after predators have fed.  Rotting carcasses are easily digested by the highly acidic stomach of a vulture and this keeps the environment clean and free of disease.  Carrion, the decaying flesh of dead animals, is often infected with contagious diseases, such as Anthrax, Botulinum Toxins, Rabies and Hog Cholera, which can have detrimental effects if ingested by other scavengers and can be spread to humans through feral dogs, rats and blowfly larvae.  As such, vultures are a key component to a healthy ecosystem and their presence around the Dambwa release site is welcome.

At present, vultures flying around the release site are providing the pride with great interest into their whereabouts.  More often than not, the lions will watch intently and, when the birds fly low enough, will move off in the corresponding direction.  The pride has been known to move from the Kariba area to the Sibaka area and then back again within the space of a few hours.  These vultures are well and truly giving the lions the run around!  The research team often giggle at the pride’s movements when they know there is no scavenge opportunity available, but, by utilising the environment around them, the lions are behaving exactly as they would in the wild.

On the 2nd of June, the pride moved off from the edge of the Kariba and Acacia Boundary area following a few vultures that were flying over the site.  At first it seemed they may be led astray again, so the lions stopped and looked around before moving a few hundred metres to one of their favourite places to lie down.  They all took their positions to rest, but LE3 and Kwandi remained vigilant.

The pride on the move

Loma: Don't leave me behind

After several minutes, a swarm of vultures could be seen circling over the middle of the release site.  Undoubtedly, this meant food!  The pride jumped to their feet and started running towards the dark swirls in the sky.  They stopped short around 20 metres away, checking to ensure that this was a legitimate reason to use up their energy.  It was.  The pride continued their run towards the vultures.  In the sky, 14 marabou stalks and over 40 vultures were circling the site of a possible scavenge.  The pride alternated between running and trotting along the road system to the middle junction between the Chobe, Bwizu and Sahara areas of the site. The lions had been right to follow the birds of prey, as a carcass was laid waiting for them - which they took no time at all to being feeding on.  Once again, the pride had successfully utilised the natural environment surrounding them.

Circling vultures lead the way to a scavenge

A marabou stalk marks the spot

The pride arrives at the carcass 

RS1 after the feast

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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