Zulu & Kela
After a long search on the morning of the 29th January, we eventually came across Kela and Zulu on the southern boundary road parallel to Sibaka. Signals from collars confirmed we were seeing only two members of a larger group, although at that point they were truly out of sight. Several minutes later Kela rolled over to reveal a larger than normal stomach, and when Zulu managed to drag his face off the floor for a 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 identified her as Temi.
Temi gives the rest of the pride's location away
Rising from the road, Kela headed to the area Temi had just vacated – and so did we. As she arrived at the zebra carcass, we saw that Rusha, her cubs, Loma and Kwandi were also lounging around in tall grass nearby. After a bit of back-and-forth and resettling of positions to accommodate Kela, 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 son, RS2, helpfully brought along the zebra leg which had become detached 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 cubs nipping at her heels. But she was undeterred and carried on hefting away until it had reached the desired location.
Rusha does a little tidying up
Supervised by Zulu
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 receiving 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…
The following afternoon the rains had cut us off from much of the site, leaving some of the roads East of 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 his two daughters. 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 with that, he was off. He didn’t go far however; perhaps a couple of hundred metres before stopping to drink from a puddle in the road.
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 a 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 the time being.
February proved somewhat tricky to keep up with the pride with the usual annual problem of grass swamping the research vehicle – never mind the lions. On the 6th February we found the pride, minus the L sisters, moving between Chisamu and Tsavo. As they turned onto the Lusaka Road and headed West we immediately lost track of them, and they fairly quickly lost track of one another. Every once in a while we’d find them regrouping at various points along the road, but by the end of the afternoon we and Temi were equally unsure as to what had happened to everyone else.
The pride had to stop and re-group at several points throughout the afternoon; but still ended up scattered to the wind
The 11th was equally frustrating. Most the pride seemed to be holed up in the thickets of Chobe; as soon as their signals were picked up in this area we knew there was no chance of seeing them. However, Rusha’s signal (and most likely Rusha) appeared to be on the move through the thickets and just when all seemed hopeless she appeared on the road in front of us with her three cubs clambering along behind. The cubs were in fine form, with RS1 using the tall grass to excellent advantage and stalking her mother so efficiently that when she leapt from her hiding place Rusha was visibly scared. After recovering herself, Rusha could be heard vocally reprimanding her daughter. With plenty of stops along the way for tree climbing and stalking each other in the grass the family eventually settled in the East of the site.
RS2 (next to Rusha) stalks RS3
The following afternoon and everyone was together at waterpan 3. With full bellies it was a relatively lazy afternoon – one that would be cut short by a heavy downpour. But there was just time for a little play in the cooling weather ahead of the storm with Loma seeming to goad the cubs into pouncing on her. While Loma and Kwandi seem to be the cubs favoured playmates and Temi their (somewhat unwilling) child-minder, there still really is no substitute for dad however, whose slightest movement causes great waves of excitement from the youngsters.
Loma gets mobbed
Before attention turns to mum & dad
The grasses and bushes of Chobe had once more swallowed up most of the pride on 19th but luckily Rusha, her live-in baby sitter, Temi, and the cubs were hanging around on the road between Tsavo and Sahara. Temi’s relationship with the cubs is an odd one. She seems completely indifferent to them, at times barely even acknowledging their presence. Yet asides from one instance with Kela, Temi is the only lioness we have witnessed Rusha leaving her cubs alone with. And increasingly frequently, the five are forming a fairly constant sub-group. Nevertheless, Temi remains at best aloof to the cubs’ charms.
Temi and RS2
It was another frustrating afternoon on the 23rd. Initially we located the KL sisters and Zulu in Kariba. Temi and Rusha’s signals were close by, but despite our trawling the area, we couldn’t find them. So heading back to the original group we then discovered Zulu and the KLs had vanished. Searching for lions in tall grass is not easy (especially when they are moving) and a sinking feeling settled in once we discovered we’d lost not only Temi and Rusha, but everyone else. After several minutes though, a bit of luck; Temi’s bum bouncing along the road towards Grand Canyon! Although the rest of the pride’s signals were close by, due to the twisting nature of the roads and the height and thickness of the vegetation we didn’t see anything of them for most of the afternoon as they plodded along ahead. Temi's tush would have to do as the highlight of the afternoon...
A break in the grass allows us to catch up to Temi