The RS cubs flourish
November 8 2013

On the 23rd October, the pride were all resting in the South of Kariba, near the Sanga treeline. At first we didn’t have a visual at all of Leya and Kwandi, but both did eventually appear out of the treeline. Rusha soon rose and ambled over to join Kwandi, and after a moment or two the cubs duly followed. Both females, RS1 and RS3, began suckling from Kwandi and it was at this point we were able to see that Kwandi appeared smaller than she had in recent days and weeks. Lactating lionesses may allow small cubs of any litter to suckle from them, whilst others favour their own cubs almost exclusively.

Kwandi and Zulu

We had been confident that Kwandi was pregnant before this, and this sighting appeared to be relatively soon after her giving birth on account of physical changes from the previous day. As we’ve seen with Rusha and Kela, the initial days and weeks following birth usually see the mother absent from the pride and presumably in the den with her new-borns. For whatever reason, Kwandi does not appear to have followed this pattern. As the days have passed and while it’s been difficult to be 100% sure now that she is permitting Rusha’s cubs to suckle intermittently, we believe Kwandi has given birth, but possibly lost or abandoned her litter. The reason behind this is impossible to confirm and the only way we’ll know absolutely if this is the case is to keep monitoring and see if she ever brings a litter to join the pride in the coming months.

The afternoon of the 28th found Rusha and her cubs barely visible tucked away in the northern boundary close to water pan 3. Temi had taken herself off to the East of the site, whilst Kela, Kwandi, Leya and Zulu were in south Kariba with a zebra carcass. The four lions were full and completely uninterested in any form of activity (unlike Loma who later in the afternoon we spotted several hundred metres away from the group ambling between two of the waterpans). That was until the end of the afternoon, when Zulu approached Kela and appeared more than a little interested in her.

Kela and Zulu

The following morning, the pair were mating. This is obviously a little concerning as technically Kela should not come back into heat until any cubs are no longer dependent on her (usually around 18-24 months later) and may indicate that she too has lost or abandoned her cubs. However, it isn’t totally unheard of for lionesses with young cubs to come into oestrous and allow themselves to be mated, but is quite rare. This is usually in response to a pride take over in an effort to protect their cubs from possible infanticide, which is not a concern Kela should have with only Zulu in the site. As with Kwandi all we can do at this point is speculate, it is something we’re simply just going to have to keep monitoring for another several weeks before we can be sure one way or the other.

RS2 (front), RS1, Rusha and RS3

Halloween was certainly a suitably gruesome affair in the site. First thing that morning we’d located Rusha and the RS cubs at Pan 3, it was the first time we’d seen the cubs properly in over a week and it was surprising how much they’d grown and changed in that short period of time. Within a matter of minutes however this tranquil scene was shattered by the distress calls of a zebra, not too far away to the East. Rusha was off like a shot with the cubs scampering to keep up but ultimately being left far behind. The calls continued for several more minutes and we were soon able to locate the source of them; Leya and Loma (or in all likelihood – Leya) had caught a sub-adult zebra. Rusha had beaten us to the scene and was offering Leya assistance in subduing the still-live prey. Whilst Leya worked on suffocating it via a throat-hold, Rusha used her considerable size to hold the rear of the animal down. Loma played her part by sitting in a nearby bush panting.

Leya and Rusha

When the deed was done, Rusha immediately left, we presumed to pick up the cubs. While Leya was too exhausted to eat immediately, Loma decided to get stuck in. After 20 minutes though Leya had suitably recovered herself to start feeding too, just as Rusha returned with the cubs. Initially the trio could only stare with huge eyes as the Ls gnawed and chomped away. But later in the morning the Ls vacated the carcass and slumped in a nearby bush allowing the cubs to fill their tummies. Rusha sat patiently to one side until her offspring had fed before feeding herself.

RS1 takes a peek at Loma feeding

The following afternoon and Kwandi, Leya and Loma were at Pan 3, whilst Rusha and the cubs were still with the remains of the carcass from the previous day. As we arrived, Rusha was calling softly watched by RS2 and RS3. RS1 made her entrance by jumping out at a bush at Rusha and was softly reprimanded by her mum. Heading off further East, we discovered Temi tucked away still in the northern boundary. We were picking up Kela and Zulu’s signal in the South of the site, but couldn’t actually locate them – nonetheless they made their presence felt throughout the afternoon.

RS1 prepares to ambush mum

Returning to Rusha and the cubs, we found the Ls were feeding from the carcass nearby, and Kwandi had also joined the grouping. With no chance of getting back on the carcass the cubs engaged in a long bout of play with some cool weather after an earlier shower encouraging their rambunctiousness. But every once in a while, approximately every five minutes, we could hear Zulu and Kela roaring in the South East. With the KL trio having now departed Rusha and her cubs, Rusha would respond to Zulu/Kela’s vocalisations, but seemed torn as to whether to go in search of them, go in search of the Kwandi and the Ls, or just stay put with the cubs. Still the roaring persisted into the late afternoon, and Rusha in turn would call back but in the end led her cubs back towards the North boundary.

Rusha calls to her pride

A heavy downpour in the early hours of Saturday (2nd) morning meant that we had to wait until the afternoon for the roads in the site to dry out sufficiently. The whole pride was in the East of the site but in two sub-groups. Sisters Loma and Leya were tucked away in a bush in Chisamu whilst the rest of the pride was dotted over 100m or so in Sahara. Whilst most of the adults slept the afternoon away, there was no such rest for Rusha, whose cubs were full of beans and were keen to entice mum into a bit of play too.

Daughters RS1 and RS3 try to find Rusha's inner cub

Prior to becoming a mother Rusha was certainly one of the most, if not the most, playful member of the pride and she seemed content to let her cubs run circles around her whilst also jumping all over from time to time, and she in return would emit a soft call to them, or give them of soft bite or swat around the back legs.

After the play... RS1 suckles, RS2 and RS3 catch up on some sleep

The following morning was a much more sedate affair. Rusha and cubs were now tucked away in Kulibe, in the East of the site; an impenetrable (by vehicle) network of trees. No doubt after the previous afternoon the family were recharging their batteries. Kela was alone in Kariba in the South West of the site, while Temi was also alone, but at the opposite end of the site in Tsavo, and Zulu and the L sisters were busy working on a new zebra carcass. Having seemingly had most of their fill in the early hours or overnight, they spent the morning resting…except for an occasional stalk on the vultures who dared to get a bit too close to the remains.

Zulu... ever-watchful of his avian admirers

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