If at first you don't succeed...
February 2 2014

After a lengthy search on the afternoon of the 27th, the seven adults of the Dambwa pride were located in the northern area of Kariba, close to the riverbed. Initial impressions suggested it would be a quiet afternoon as barely an eyelid was batted for the first half an hour or so. Loma kicked started the afternoon’s activities however, when she rose from her position next to Leya, and began calling softly as she ambled a dozen metres or so.

Zulu, behind: Kwandi grooming Temi

We’ve seen a big increase in the frequency with which the pride has been roaring lately; perhaps as they all approach full maturity and gain in size and confidence this is giving them a little extra to shout about. After Loma’s warm-up act she and Zulu led the pride in another bellowing chorus with all but Kela and Temi joining in. With the operatics over, Temi rose from her place next to Kwandi and ambled over to Rusha. Temi and Rusha have a long-standing alliance and often when one sets off, the other is up and by their side in an instant. And so too was the case that afternoon as Temi moved past Rusha, she was immediately on her feet.

Kwandi seemed eager to join, and where Kwandi goes quite often Kela follows. Zulu has been observed to be showing a degree of covering behaviour towards Kela over the last week and he wasn’t letting her out of his sight for a second. After a short deliberation Loma then joined, and a rather rotund Leya eventually waddled after her pride mates as they headed towards waterpan 3. With Leya being so far behind, most of the pride had already stopped to drink and started moving off again by the time she caught up.

With Rusha and Temi still at the helm, they brought the pride to a brief standstill on the border of Bwizu. We suspected, as this area has been a favoured drop-off point for Rusha’s cubs over the months, Rusha was weighing up whether to fetch them, or continue. She chose the latter and the pride continued. As we hung back for a few minutes, we spotted the curious faces of a trio of cubs hidden deep in the grass tracking the sound of the adults moving through the grass.

Spot the cub: RS2 tracks the noise of the pride moving past them

We couldn’t follow the pride through water-logged Bwizu and so circumnavigated the area finding their tracks heading along the Lusaka Road as they made their way between Chobe and Sahara. A few minutes later, Leya’s bobbing rear-end came into view but it took several minutes before we were able to see the rest of pride. The RT leader combo propelled the group onwards before turning South and then North across Tsavo. It seemed likely they were on the look-out for a meal, and as the late afternoon skies darkened it was time to take our leave.

Heading north across Tsavo

The pride might not have been successful on that particular patrol but on the morning of the 29th, after another exasperating search, we eventually came across Kela and Zulu on the southern boundary road parallel to Sibaka. Signals from collars confirmed we were seeing only two of a larger group although at that point they were truly out of sight. It took several minutes before Kela rolled over to reveal a larger than normal stomach size, and when Zulu managed to drag his face off the floor for brief moment we could see dark stains on his face. Not too long after this, we spotted a lioness about 40m away from the pair rising from the tall grass. Coming in and out of sight we eventually could identify her as Temi, and she too was sporting a rounded belly – and had also given the game away as to where everyone else was.

An exhausted Kela and Zulu

Temi

As Kela rose, we followed her to the area Temi had just vacated. She immediately went into feed from the remains of a zebra carcass, which must have been caught sometime early in the morning. Three chubby cubs with dirty faces were stuffed in around the carcass along with Rusha, Loma and Kwandi. After a bit of back-and-forth and resettling of positions Rusha then decided a little more relocation was in order. Grabbing the carcass by the neck she began dragging it the 40-or-so metres to the roadside. Her ever eager to please and adoring son RS2 helpfully bringing along the zebra leg that had been left behind in the process.

Met half-way by Kwandi, now Rusha had the carcass remains with Kwandi attached to the other end of it to drag and three seven-month old cubs nipping at her heels. But she was undeterred and carried on hefting away until it had reached the desired location.

Rusha, Kwandi & RS2

Never one to allow anything to go on unsupervised, Zulu was of course over like a shot. Instead of commandeering the carcass from Rusha he spent a few moments playing with his cubs, RS1 coming for great favour as the only recipient of a head rub. After all that effort we couldn’t quite work out why Rusha then chose to abandon the zebra remains and usher her cubs to rest alongside her, leaving the carcass to Kwandi, Temi and Zulu…

Zulu races in for a better look

The following afternoon the rains had cut us off from much of the site, leaving some of the roads past Grand Canyon more than a little waterlogged. Thankfully, Zulu, Rusha and the cubs were in an area still accessible and as we arrived Zulu made his way over to the rest of the group and was duly ambushed by RS1 and RS3. But the big man was restless and after spending a bit of time with the family, announced his departure by scent marking a nearby shrub and set off. He didn’t go far however; perhaps a couple of hundred metres before stopping to drink from a puddle in the road.

Alone...and ignored!

After slaking his thirst, he stood and turned to the south-east whereby he began calling, softly at first before he began walking south across Puku Dambo and escalating into a full roar. And so the pattern was set for the rest of the afternoon. Whether he was trying to establish contact with the rest of the pride over the other side of the pond, or just generally had a few things to get off his chest wasn’t clear. But he sat in small clearing alternately calling and roaring every 3-5 minutes throughout the course of the afternoon. At several points he couldn’t even muster the enthusiasm to sit up whilst doing so and was lay prone on his back whilst bellowing at full volume. Rusha replied once, but as for the rest of the pride – they were keeping quiet for now.

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