Such was the relentlessness of the rain over the end of December and early January that access to the Dambwa site was impossible for over a week. However the afternoon of Tuesday 7th January, our first trip of the year, more than made up for it.
We first encountered Temi’s signal close to Pan 2. The ground is still a bit dodgy in this area and we soon had to give up the search for her. Next we came across Kela on her own on the border of Kariba and Sibaka and then the RS cubs making their way through the southern boundary. Despite being on their own we could hear a lion calling close by and waited while they located what must have been Rusha. Having given them a little time to hook up with mum, we went in search and found the cubs had now found Rusha, Zulu and Kwandi.
It wasn’t long before Kela joined the group and RS3 made a beeline for the new arrival and found a great use for aunt.
RS3... just chilling with Kela
The cubs were in mildly playful mood, and Kwandi duly obliged RS3 (the most playful, cheeky and inquisitive of the trio) with a good old-fashioned game of bite and slap.
All three cubs took it in turns to approach Zulu and get him involved in their games. Initially he took this in relatively good spirits, but as the interactions notched up his fuse was getting noticeably shorter and shorter. The last straw came in the shape of a slap round the face from RS2, disciplining his belligerent son with a little more force than is usual for him, Rusha was soon on the scene to separate the squabble.
But the mood had changed and Zulu wasn’t interested in anymore of his off-springs’ antics.
RS2 and RS1 regard Zulu afer his little tantrum
Loma then appeared and her presence distracted the cubs for a minute or two, and then a few moments later as Leya arrived and Kela simultaneously left, for no apparent reason RS1 became the focus of Zulu’s bad temper.
He pounced and chased her a short distance, easily catching her and giving her several slaps and soft bites. With her disgruntled cries, Rusha was once more up and separating the cubs from Zulu who was by now in a foul temper, and having disciplined RS1 began roaring. Tempers were frayed and nerves were rattled, but after a few minutes the group resettled.
RS3, RS1, RS2 (standing), Kwandi, Rusha and Zulu
Bold as brass the cubs marched straight up into Zulu’s face again and started pestering him. With a couple of powerful bats of his paw he dismissed them and the cubs grumbled and complained as they sought comfort from Rusha.
Peace fell momentarily over the group, before RS3 came in the firing line, although she did sort of put herself in that situation. Once more walking over to Zulu, she chanced a slap to the face and a bite of the chin. Zulu used one of his massive forepaws to hold her in place, and even though she was trapped she continued to bat and slap at him. Eventually managing to free herself (with Rusha’s help) the feisty little one didn’t simply skulk away, but came out lunging for Zulu, paws flying. Zulu was suitably taken aback and moved away several metres.
After a second roaring bout, Loma and Leya began heading East, and Rusha led the cubs, Kwandi and eventually Zulu after the L sisters. It seems perhaps that the cubs aren’t the only members of the pride to have encountered Zulu’s temper that day, as when the group met up with Kela, she almost immediately moved off. Unfortunately, if Kela was expecting solitude and peace, she was to be disappointed as all but the Ls followed her.
Rusha leads the cubs after Leya and Loma
By contrast the morning of the 9th was the polar opposite. Initially we found Temi in Tsavo, we could hear Rusha’s signal relatively close by, but for the time being had trouble locating her in the thickening vegetation. Zulu and the 4KL girls were in Kariba; all five were already KO-d for the day and given their status that early on in the morning, we weren’t expecting great things from the rest of the day.
With nothing to really observe from this group, we set off once more to look for Rusha and this time her signal was picked up in Chobe. As it got weaker and louder, and then weaker then louder it was clear she was moving through the thick bushes. But we only had to wait a minute or two until we picked out her form moving at a determined pace, in a westerly direction.
Keeping a good distance behind her, when she came to a halt several minutes later so did we and she called several times from the road. From our vantage point we could see the three cubs come bounding towards her; but then stopped. They were still a good 50m away and couldn’t see her and she couldn’t see them through the thick bushes. After waiting several moments Rusha moved on and began calling once more, at which point the cubs scampered out onto the road after her. But by this point they were a long way behind. To make sure they could continue to hear her calls, and she them, we remained in place for 10 minutes so that the vehicle’s engine noise wouldn’t drown out their calls. Our next sighting of Rusha however was towards the end of the morning, crossing Grand Canyon towards Pan 3; still calling regularly and alone.
Towards midday, Rusha was now resting with the KL/Zulu group in Kariba. The rain over the last week has been such that we’re already having trouble spotting the lions when they’re lying down, such has been the growth of the grass. But it didn’t really matter anyway as they were only interested in the sleep. Meanwhile, Temi was wide awake up on Tsavo… Having moved over the course of the morning from the south to north of the area her eyes were wide open and trained on a small herd of zebra, grazing oblivious to her presence nearby.
She was only 100m away, and while the grass has started to grow, it isn’t that tall yet. Watching for better part of 20 minutes, it was clear Temi wouldn’t be able to move until the zebra moved. The grass concealed her well enough as she sat watching them, but would do little to disguise her if she rose to approach. With midday fast approaching, and the sun high in the sky the zebra didn’t look as if they would be moving from their patch of shade for some time. Temi would just have to wait.