Lucky number 13
March 12 2014

There was just time to get in to the site on 1st March before the return of some rather extreme storms interfered with play at the start of the month. The KL quartet was once more holed up out of sight in the dense thickets of Chobe, whilst Zulu was hanging out with Rusha and Temi on the southern boundary road between Chobe and Chisamu. The trio weren’t really up for much activity, but the girls did seem particularly alert. Typically the one bit of activity that did occur in the form of a move East, initiated by Temi, meant we promptly lost the lions for quarter of an hour as they wound their way through the tall grasses in Chisamu.

An inspection of the roads leading to the site after a series of storms on the afternoon of the 3rd confirmed any attempt of entering would be foolish. And so it wasn’t until the morning of the 5th that we risked it. Kela and Leya’s signals could be heard once more coming from deep within Chobe, whilst Temi and Rusha were now accompanied by the RS cubs in Sahara.

RS2 with Rusha, his sisters and Temi in Sahara

After an initial bout of play, everyone settled down as the morning warmed up. At a little before 9am Rusha shot to her feet and moved out of the clearing from where the lions had been resting. How she saw or heard anything is a mystery, but suddenly we heard the stampeding of hooves, and with that Temi and Rusha were off. Initially RS1 tried to follow Temi, but ultimately remained with her siblings. In the blink of an eye, Temi and Rusha were just as invisible as the zebra had been initially.

Unable to see a thing, and with visibility being so poor from the truck in the tall grass we decided to stay put with the cubs and wait, rather than risk bumbling into the hunt. With the cubs repositioned on an anthill in the thick bush, we listened to Rusha and Temi’s signals as they steadily grew closer and closer. Assuming their efforts had failed and they were returning to the cubs we sat and waited. But they never appeared. Ten minutes after the initial hunt, we were about to go looking for them when once more we heard the crashing of hooves and the rush of lions in the tall grass, perhaps 30-40m from the vehicle. The cubs’ eyes followed the sound of the noise, but they remained rooted to the anthill.

Later in the morning, we found the Kela, Kwandi, Loma, Leya and Zulu had moved slightly from Chobe into the Southern Boundary; an equally impenetrable area. Going to check back with Rusha and Temi’s progress, we encountered a small zebra herd near to pan 2. Heading further East we found the cubs still alone in the bushes and about 200m away picked up very strong signal for the RT duo. But they soon faded and it was clear they were on the move West through Sahara; perhaps once more on the trail of those zebra.

Leya, Kela and Zulu

With very little to see we were about to leave for the day when lo-and-behold, Kela, Zulu et al., crossed the main road in front of us and settled under a favoured tree. A flurry of greetings announced they’d found the perfect spot in which to spend the rest of the morning and they soon settled in the shade.

More heavy rains (hopefully for the last time this year!) kept us out of the site once more for several days, before we eventually risked another trip in on the afternoon of the 10th. The pride was all together, weaving their way East along the Lusaka Road. It took several minutes before we were able to confirm all were there as we tried to pick each one out in the grass. Just as we had accomplished this feat, Rusha’s cubs promptly disappeared. After a moment’s assessment at a known impala haunt to guage whether or not there was anything around worth pursuing, the pride was off once more. Several minutes later Rusha seemed to become aware that she was missing three little shadows and made a U-turn. As the rest of the group headed into deeper grass we decided to switch back and see how Rusha was fairing to find she had re-found her offspring, and live-in baby-sitter, Temi.

With the grass causing us mass confusion, our bumbling about in the grass causing the lions even greater confusion, we decided we’d probably done enough damage for the day and made an exit.

Regular readers of this blog may have noticed that one lion hasn’t being getting much of a mention lately – and when she does it’s a brief mention of her collar’s signal being detected in Chobe. Over mid-October last year, Leya and Zulu mated for several days. On the 29th January this year, Leya was most conspicuous by her absence at a zebra kill attended by all other pride members – exactly 104 days after mating. The following afternoon, Leya was still in the mysterious “bushes of Chobe”, Rusha and her cubs were in Kariba with Zulu whilst the remainder of the pride were out of our reach in a flooded area of the site.

An agitated and out-of-sorts Zulu on the 30th January

That afternoon had been a suitably atmospheric one with large storm clouds and angry grey skies covering the site, accompanied by distant rumbles of thunder. As the afternoon wore on, Zulu left his RS family, walked about a kilometre and literally positioned himself facing Chobe, whereby he roared constantly throughout the afternoon; it would seem now he may have been announcing the further expansion of his pride. We didn’t see Leya for almost a full two weeks, 12th February was our first sighting of the suspected new mother. Then over the rest of February and early March she’d sporadically appear with the pride, but spend equally as much time with a revolving door of guests in her den – with sister, Loma, and Kela being the most regular of attendees.

On the afternoon of the 11th March, we found Leya, Loma, Kela and Zulu in the company of Leya’s three, approximately six-week-old cubs. With the pride having spent so much time in the den over the last weeks with Leya, it reflected in their relaxed nature around the cubs, and the cubs’ total familiarity with their aunts and father.

Leya, with LE1, LE2 and LE3

Proud father of six...

Already working on those bonds with auntie Kela

A little later in the afternoon, mother to the pride’s first litter of cubs Rusha and side-kick Temi turned up and joined the family. Our only absentees were aunt Kwandi, and Rusha’s eight-month old cubs. We’re pretty sure the RS cubs have visited the den with their mother on several occasions too, but we await our first sighting with all members in attendance of our new 13-strong pride!

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