After the excitement of our first sighting of Rusha’s cubs on the 24th July, we were made to pay quite heavily for that privilege with several days of nothing. Literally nothing.
There were a few positives though; after several days of lone impala ambushing Temi re-joined the rest of the pride on the 29th. We found her in the afternoon, happily ensconced between Kwandi and Loma; the trio providing literally the only data point of the afternoon with a brief bout of social activity. Later that afternoon, a drive around the site to conduct a game count did reveal some very small cub-sized spoor in the roads…
Cub-sized tracks on the Lusaka Road
We decided to provide a scavenge opportunity for the pride on the 1st August; something they have become specialists at over the last two years having developed keen monitoring skills of Dambwa’s vultures. Having dropped the free meal earlier in the morning for them we returned in the afternoon to see what they were up to.
The six females were at Waterpan 3; Rusha and Kwandi were especially alert and seemed to be watching the small army of vultures gathering in the trees in the direction of the scavenge, but made no effort to investigate.
We then headed to the scavenge site suspecting that the vultures we could see from the waterpan were likely being kept at bay by a rather overly-aggressive feeder. Having dragged the carcass into shade, Zulu was no heaving his enormous belly around chasing vultures from the ground and back into the trees. At this point it appeared that he had merely opened the carcass and fed from the offal – which meant there was still plenty of meat for the females, should they pick up on the clues in time…
Leya greets Kela
Heading back towards the water pans we fully expected it would be a matter of minutes before girls picked up on the clues, and sure enough shortly afterwards Rusha began walking in the right direction. But then sat down again after 50m. A greeting and grooming session between Kela and Leya seemed to act as a trigger for Kela to lead a move… in the opposite direction from the scavenge. To our surprise, the females began moving away from the increasing numbers of vultures and headed East.
Kela leads Loma, Kwandi, Temi, Rusha and Leya
The move didn’t last long, perhaps a couple of hundred metres before they came to a halt and sat in the tall grass. Still baffled as to why they were ignoring the great big stonking clue over the scavenge we could only watch as they once more rose from their haunches and continued on their route East. By the following morning however, they had come across Zulu and the carcass and managed to pry the pride’s male away from it long enough to all feed from the remains.
On the 4th we witnessed a rare moment of discord between the pride. Initially we found everyone except Rusha resting in the morning sun. About 30 minutes later we spotted the lone figure of Rusha making her way across Kariba towards the sleeping pile of lions. It took several minutes for her to locate them, who were sleeping so deeply that none of them were actually aware of her presence until she was literally on top of them. At this point, Loma charged Rusha and Leya began growling as everyone else bolted awake at the chaos. Rusha immediately rubbed up along Zulu and greeted Kwandi, and this seemed to calm the situation. It’s likely that Loma and Leya had been sleeping so deeply that Rusha simply startled them more than anything else, but it also serves to show how hard Rusha is having to work to make sure she tends to her cubs and maintain relations with the rest of the pride.
Rusha making her way across Kariba
The afternoon of the 5th saw Rusha leading the pride on a move East through the release site. Pulling out a rather large lead over the rest of the pride we began to suspect she may be on her way to her den. Keen to not to intrude in such a situation we decided to stop following and leave for the afternoon.
Rusha stretches out a lead as the pride head towards Chobe
The afternoon of the 11th August started off with the discovery of Leya, Loma and Kela on a puku kill. The three girls looked exceedingly content and full as Leya licked the last scraps of meat from a rather pathetic looking leg bone. Next we found Rusha, alone, to the South of the trio’s location. She seemed vigilant and was keeping watch towards the southern treeline; a prime potential hiding spot for cubs maybe? We left her alone.
The small cuff of fur was the only clue left as to whether Leya's kill was puku or impala
Despite best efforts, we couldn’t find Kwandi, Temi and Zulu that afternoon which is rare, so we returned to the sight of the puku kill to find Kela had now moved onto the remains whilst Leya and Loma could be seen in the distance making their way towards Pan 3. We caught up to the sisters just as they arrived to drink – massive bellies swaying everything looked like an unbearable effort. Still Loma did find the energy to give her sister a check jab around the head as they settled down. After that, it was a quiet afternoon with Kela eventually joining the Ls, and we found Rusha feeding from the puku scraps as we left the site.
Loma and Leya
Kela joins the Ls at Waterpan 3
Following another sedate afternoon of the 14th August all our Christmases came at once on the morning of the 16th when we arrived to find Rusha had brought the cubs out to the pride and was nursing them happily out in the open. Now 8-weeks old it’s likely they’ll start spending more and more time with the pride from this point on.
Kwandi didn't leave Rusha and the cubs' side all morning
As the adults slept the morning away, the cubs nursed constantly, but Rusha proved to be patient and never grew frustrated with the constant clambering, or the bickering for space. Kwandi seems to be aunt number one at the moment for the cubs who when they weren’t suckling seemed to want to spend time nestled between their mum and Kwandi. The feeling seems to be mutual as Kwandi spent the morning literally glued to Rusha’s side – so much so that Rusha may have justifiably felt she in fact had four cubs.
There was one member of the pride who was missing however, Temi. After a brief search we found her in her usual favoured hunting area at the other end of the release site, her face stained a bright red and her stomach fir to burst. Who needs cubs, when you don’t have to share a meal?
It seems this may be the start of the full-time introduction of the cubs to the pride, as on the 18th August we once more found the young trio amongst the older lions. Temi had returned after her dinner for one experience and Kwandi was once more rooted to the new family’s side. The cubs were of course feeding when we arrived, but not long after Kwandi moved to sit next to Temi in the warming sun. She was soon followed by Loma, then Rusha, a rabble of cubs – which instantly alerted Zulu and caused him to join the party. Despite the cubs being his initial source of interest, he then totally ignored them until he grew impatient at their playing with his tail (which in fairness he had tolerated for several minutes beforehand). His warning to the cubs instantly got Rusha to her feet and she led them a few metres away and groomed them reassuringly.
Zulu marches past his cubs to catch up to Rusha
Zulu allows a few minutes of tail playing