As September has progressed the three Dambwa cubs have become more and more present amongst the pride, and appear more confident seemingly on every sighting. Dad, Zulu, has become an object of great fascination for the cubs – and he seems to bear this constant attention, for the most part with amazing patience. Whilst Kela and Kwandi have been equally as fascinated with the cubs as they have been since their first encounter, the rest of the pride (Leya, Loma and Temi) have all been slightly wary and at times intolerant to the youngsters. The cubs however have been working hard to wear this trio's hard-nosed resilience down.
The morning of the 11th saw all 10 members of the pride on the border of Sahara. To-date we’ve only seen the cubs included in short moves with the pride; with Rusha often leaving them in a thicket if she has the mind to wander further than a few hundred metres. Just before 9am however the L sisters led a move from the East of the site, past waterpan 2 with everyone eventually settling for the rest of day in the shade of a large bush in Puku Dambo, and the cubs raced along behind the pride every step of the way. Now able to keep up on longer moves, this seemed to be the start of their more permanent integration into the pride.
RS2, RS3, RS1 and Rusha before setting off from Sahara
However, the following afternoon the pride was once more minus the cubs, resting between waterpan 3 and northern boundary. It was a stiflingly hot and humid afternoon and just as we’d reconciled to the fact that the lions had found their shade for the day and likely wouldn’t move until much later, Kwandi led the group to Waterpan 3. Stopping only for a brief refreshment before moving further East, Zulu trailed a long way behind, but gamely kept plodding on. Upon reaching the pan the pride settled in a spread out formation, until 10 minutes later Rusha rose and started heading back in the direction from where the pride had arrived. As she walked through Puku Dambo, instead of heading back to the northern boundary, she cut through and headed South West.
Stopping for refreshments on 12th September
Suspecting she was going to retrieve her cubs, we kept a big distance between ourselves and her as she wove through Kariba, stopping every once in a while to scan the area. Suddenly, the cubs were running up to her and around her feet. We were still some distance away, and decided not to follow them as Rusha led them back East towards the pride, but were able to track their progress for several minutes until they disappeared from sight.
Another sweltering afternoon on the 13th once more gave rise to a surprising amount of activity. The pride was resting in Kariba when not long after we arrived several of the lions locked eyes on a small herd of puku approximately 150m distant. Completely oblivious, the trio of antelope continued grazing as Leya glided out to the left. Whilst she only advanced 20m or so before taking cover behind a large bush, Kela went out on a wide right flank. Covering an impressive amount of ground rapidly, and all the while undetected by the puku, she began to round back towards the puku and disappeared from sight.
Leya sets her sights on the puku
As Leya waited, Kwandi joined her and Temi took up the direct position… the trap was set, with Kela hopefully intending to drive the puku towards the ambush line. But then Loma got involved. Having been sound asleep up until this point, she rose, stretched and decided to have a little potter. The puku spotted the absent-mindedly wandering figure and gave a loud alarm whistle before bolting. We hadn’t given up hope just yet of a successful hunt as they’d run off towards Kela’s last known position, but it was several minutes before we saw her again and she returned empty-handed.
The 16th and 17th were once more hot, humid and uncomfortable affairs. The pride was sprawled in the shade of a currently highly-favoured tree close to waterpan 1 on the 16th, and only a couple of hundred metres further West on the 17th. At close to 40 degrees centigrade for most of the week, you couldn’t blame them for keeping as still and as cool as possible.
Rusha, Kwandi and Zulu get some bonding time in
An early morning visit to the site on the 18th proved much more fruitful, and we arrived to find the pride in Kariba just as a play bout in the early morning cool air was turning a bit too rough. After a bit of antagonism between the L sister (who can be a right pair of nasty little bullies when they put their mind to it) and Temi things seemed to settle down as the pride moved onto waterpan 3. As they came to rest, Temi and Rusha carried on East and we decided to follow them. But we hadn’t got far before we heard the pride calling and Temi and Rusha answering in return. Temi at this point decided to turn back and re-join the others whilst Rusha carried on. We’d lost sight of her for several minutes and were about to turn back when she appeared on the road with three very excited cubs trailing her.
RS2 gets some air-time over his sisters as the cubs race after Rusha
As they bounded off down the road after her they would stop every couple of dozen metres to stalk, chase and clamber all over one another. By the time Rusha had managed to get her mischievous little posse to waterpan 3, only Temi and Zulu were still there. Overwhelmed by the demands for milk, she soon settled and allowed them to feed.
(L-R) RS1 (f), RS2 (m), RS3 (f) and Rusha at Water pan 3
RS3 takes a quick break from feeding
As the morning began to warm up, Zulu led the group back further East – although he too was now under siege from the cubs, and after 10 minutes or so of being climbed over and bitten and scratched, Rusha had to step in and placate him with a long grooming session before he lost patience with the cubs. Eventually the gaggle – with Temi keeping well out of the way of her exuberant nephew and nieces – located the rest of the pride and settled down for the long, hot day ahead.
Rusha intervenes before Zulu loses patience with the cubs
The following morning and the pride was scattered over the West of the site in several different groups. Having located the three sub-groups we decided to settle with Kela, Leya and Kwandi just in time to see Rusha appear from the East. 100m further on came her dedicated fan club, scampering along behind. As she joined the KL trio, the cubs continued on… Rusha didn’t seem too bothered, even though the cubs had clearly lost sight of her. She didn’t call, but rather monitored their progress until they came to a rest under a bush. Happy that she knew where they were, but obviously craving some sleep, she settled for the rest of the morning and barely batted an eyelid for hours.
RS1 (front) and RS2 with Rusha
Later on, we switched to join the Loma and Zulu sub-group and again minutes after arrival Rusha pitched up; this time with her cubs sticking close to her heels. Obviously rejuvenated by her few hours of rest, she led the cubs to dad (whilst aunt Loma moved out of firing range). Zulu was in a much more patient mood with his offspring today, all three of whom took full advantage of his placid mood. While the adults were clearly struggling in the still rising temperatures, the cubs knew no bounds and spent better part of half an hour utilising their favourite toy; Zulu.
RS3 with Rusha and Zulu
The afternoon of the 20th and everyone had succumbed to the heat once more under their favourite tree in North Kariba. There were a few noticeable absences in the shape of the RS family however and we found Rusha had taken her cubs to waterpan 3. Even the cubs’ energy levels were being squelched that particular afternoon by the unrelenting heat and humidity; but it wasn’t quite enough to stop RS1 gamely trying to entice mum into a bit of play – totally unsuccessfully however.
Rusha does her best to ignore daughter RS1's play initiations
The morning of the 24th found everyone together again, looking huge and looking hot. As the pride slept through the morning it became clear that even though the pride had eaten overnight, there was a little more in Kela and Kwandi’s bellies than just meat. We saw the 2K sisters mating with Zulu during June; Kela in the second week and Kwandi towards the end of the month. Of course we’ve been monitoring their conditions over the subsequent weeks and have become fairly confident already that the sisters are both expecting litters. The size of their bellies over the last week suggests that RS1, RS2 and RS3 can probably expect some cub company fairly soon from their aunts. Which is probably just as well, as mum and dad continue to struggle in the relentless surge towards summer.
Rusha, Zulu, RS2 (behind), RS1 (front) and RS3 (far right)
A cool, fresh morning greeted us on the 25th as we entered the site for an early session once more. Rusha was initially alone with her cubs in Puku Dambo, but barely a minute after our arrival a brief call from her pride mates confirmed they were towards Grand Canyon and not long after Kwandi, Loma, Leya and Zulu joined her. Kela and Temi showing up a little while later.
The cool weather meant the cubs were once more in fine form and Zulu was once more the object of their most athletic attentions; but even Kwandi and Loma interacted with the youngsters – although Loma didn’t seem too impressed by the whole affair.
Loma has some cub time forced upon her
Just as the cubs had almost worn themselves out, the L sisters led a move first via waterpan 3 for a quick drink and then back West to Kariba. By the time everyone had caught up, even the adults were fighting to keep their eyes open, never mind the RS cubs - and as the temperature began to start climbing rapidly by 7:30am it’s sure to be another scorcher for the pride in Dambwa.