The elusive Kela
October 11 2013

The 27th September was once more a very hot morning, and the lions’ behaviours reflected this with some very deep sleeping going on. RS1, 2 and 3 were present with the group, but even these three were struggling in the heat and by 10 o’clock Rusha had stashed them in a thick bush away from the relentless heat. The one important piece of information we came away with that day was that Zulu was showing a keener interest than usual in Leya. We had noticed him displaying Flehman on several occasions over the week when around her, and whilst she wasn’t accepting his advances at this stage it was clearly only a matter of time.

Leya and Zulu begin their courting with some mild flirting

Heading into the site earlier than normal on the 29th the cool morning gave rise to several discoveries; the first being that Kela was not with the pride. We had been expecting this moment for the last week or so as after observing her mating with Zulu back in June, she was right in the middle of her possible due dates. Whilst it isn’t totally out of the realm of possibility that she was just off on her own for whatever reason, given the time frame and the physical changes in her body we’d witnessed over the last few weeks the most likely scenario was that she was denning.

Whilst obviously keen to confirm such events, we don’t go in search of denning lionesses and actively try to avoid the area from which their collar’s signals are picked up from. It’s important that the area around the den is quiet during these early weeks, and so as with Rusha before her we will have to leave Kela to do what she needs to do in peace.

Rusha, her patience with her cubs' extra energy is endless

That morning though, the rest of the pride was on the border of Kariba and Puku Dambo. The RS cubs were in fine form and spent a very busy 40 minute period climbing small shrubs, chasing and jumping on one another and bothering a number of aunts. It seems the young trio have finally won over Loma (almost), who has shown a fair bit of intolerance to their presence (perhaps due to the cubs’ pestering her or maybe as a result of an early aggressive reaction from Rusha) over the last few months. She’s still not necessarily their biggest fan, but seems eager to get involved with a bit of play with them. It was a tense few moments as Loma ambled up to them, calling softly and then smacking them with her massive paws. But that was all the invitation the cubs needed to include her in the game and jump all over her. To Loma’s utter horror.

Loma realises she's surround with something approaching mild panic

The cubs’ playful antics were brought to a sudden halt however when Zulu and Leya became a source of great fascination for them during a mating bout… While the adult females present in the group were already keeping a wary distance between themselves and the courting couple, the cubs watched transfixed as dad started doing something unspeakable to aunt Leya…!!

On the 2nd October, Kela was still absent and whilst she was “elsewhere” the rest of the pride was in North West Kariba. Leya was leaving the pride to head East towards Pan 3 just as we arrived, and after about 100m hooked up with Rusha who was just emerging from the Northern boundary. The pair circled one another, until Leya – who by all accounts has finished mating with Zulu – began to chase her along the road to the waterpan. With the morning air still fresh and cool, it was the perfect time for a bit of play.

After stopping for a quick drink, Rusha continued East towards Bwizu – where she has often left her cubs in the past in the thickets around pan 2 – suspecting she was going to retrieve them, we opted to follow Leya, who was heading back West to the rest of the pride.

With bloated bellies, the lions were still gnawing on the scraps of last night’s meal, except Zulu – who had clearly had more than his fill already. Instead, as the girls fed he was being watched by a venue of hooded and white-backed vultures – and he was certainly watching them with similar interest. As a number of the vultures left the stands high-up in the trees and began inspecting the area on the ground, they were joined by pied crows, a Bateleur eagle and yellow-billed kites. With so many of his feathered friends in the vicinity Zulu’s eyes were practically popping out of his head.

Zulu takes a little light exercise

After several minutes watching, he could stand it no more and charged those on the ground. After several of these mock charges (he was too full after the meal and slow for them to ever be a serious effort at catching them) a number of the girls joined in too, chiefly Leya.

Then at just before 7:30am Rusha reappeared walking down the boundary road towards the pride with her own three little scavengers in tow. Upon nearing the pride, she suddenly bounded at the vultures leaving her cubs literally eating her dust. After the fun was over she realised that RS1, 2 and 3 weren’t with her anymore and waited patiently before beginning to feed again for them to find her.

It was a quiet few days in the site as the unrelenting march into full summer continued. On the 6th October however it was Temi’s 5th birthday and we went into the site hoping for a little birthday action. Most of the pride was holed up under a bush and barely visible in Kariba. The birthday girl was alone at Waterpan 2; given the evidence in the immediate area it seemed the pride had fed sometime overnight and Temi had possibly stayed on longer to feed from the scraps before collapsing in the shade of the trees around the waterpan. Either way, it was Temi’s birthday and she’ll spend it alone at waterpan 2 if she wants to.

The birthday girl back with the pride on the 7th

Kela’s signal was still broadcasting from the same general area on the 6th and 7th and by then Temi was back with the pride in Puku Dambo. It was yet another hot, humid and slow afternoon; but that didn’t deter RS3 from the occasional bout of mischief.

RS3 decides it's time Loma woke up

By the 10th October, there was still no sign of Kela and the pride once more spent the afternoon snoozing off their most recent meal under the shade of a favoured tree close to water pan 1. Early the next morning the pride was still there, this time however with the addition of Kela (and the RS cubs who had also been absent the previous day). After a play bout between Kela and RS1 turned a little bit too heavy for the young cub, Rusha called her tiny trio over and Kela followed too. As she stood, finally the moment we’d been waiting two weeks to confirm arrived; we were able to see clearly that she had wet fur around her nipples - undoubtedly from where her cubs had been suckling. She spent a further hour with the pride, until at 7:15 when she moved off on her own south east towards her den.

Kela

RS2 (back), RS1 (middle) and RS3 (front), dreaming of some new siblings...?

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