Rain’s been the name of the game for the last few weeks, and will likely continue to be over the coming months. The 11th December saw an absolute deluge hit the area for three days. At the end of it, the Western and Southern parts of the site resembled the Zambezi River more than anything else. After a couple of days to allow the roads to dry out, we gained access through the East on the 16th December and tip-toed along the roads until we found Rusha, Temi and the RS cubs in Sahara.
RS2, Rusha, RS1 and RS3
The other five members of the pride were in Western Kariba; an absolute no-go area after heavy rain and so we stayed with the RT sub-group. The RS girls watched aunt Temi with great interest, whilst RS2 as usual cuddled up to mum, Rusha. Towards the middle of the afternoon Temi became much more alert and began to head south. Rusha seemed to give some thought to following her, but in the end only went about 60m before sitting down again. A few minutes later and Temi was back and this time she led Rusha west; the cubs remained put.
It would seem however that Rusha must have visited them at some point overnight. Even though she was with the rest of the pride (bar Temi, who was patrolling Tsavo the next morning) in the Sanga treeline first thing, we soon picked up her signal as she began moving East through the site. We managed to track her down just as she was crossing the Lusaka Road from Chobe into east of Bwizu, heading roughly towards the area where she’d left the cubs the afternoon previous. However, before she reached Sahara, she turned south east again and began making her way into Chisamu. Whilst we were only able to track her progress from a distance, she headed un-falteringly to the middle of the area, called three times softly and whilst we couldn’t see them we could certainly hear the excited scramble of the cubs. Onwards she led them until the family came to rest in the East of the area; fairly close to where we’d last seen Temi. The rest of the pride remained in the boundary for the remainder of the morning, and before long the clouds were starting to gather again for the next big storm.
Zulu, Kwandi, RS1 and RS2
On the afternoon of the 19th most the pride was relaxing together on the edge of the danger zone, which was very considerate of them. Zulu was surrounded by his fan club which included his cubs, and Kwandi. Rusha was a short distance away, and the cubs soon opted to join her. Zulu’s rarely seen impish side reared its head as the trio tried to walk to Rusha and he followed; ankle-tapping and bating at their hind quarters for several metres. As quickly as it started, the play was over and dad resettled. The overwhelmed cubs managed to scamper to the safety of mum and a good groom was in order to try and remove some of the mud from their coats. However, as is becoming increasingly the case – all of Rusha’s attempts to clean the cubs turned into something more akin to a boxing match.
Rusha attempts to groom RS2
The following morning (20th) Rusha, Temi and the cubs were together in Chisamu. The group soon moved out of sight however when Rusha seemed to sense another incoming storm and moved the cubs (and Temi) to the shelter of a well-fortified thicket.
All this rain however is fabulous for one lion; Zulu. Surely after bird watching, his favourite past-time at this time of year is to watch the clouds gather overhead and he can often be seen these days sat in the middle of Sibaka gazing skywards as the clouds roll in.
Rusha and Temi were up to something in the thickets along the Lusaka Road, where it runs alongside Chobe on the morning of the 24th. We could only get a signal for them, and with no hope of a sighting in this area we continued west to Sibaka where Kela, Kwandi, Loma and Leya had joined Zulu for a bit of cloud watching. En-route to this group however we’d encountered a herd of zebra, one member of which was sporting a very nasty and very recently inflicted wound to its left flank. The herd had been making its way in the direction of this group and as we parked up next to them, we could just about make out the swishing tails about 400m away.
Later in the morning we found Temi now alone in Sahara, but walking but towards the area where we’d originally heard her and Rusha’s signals. Further East in Chisamu we came across Rusha heading North before turning West. Stopping in Sahara, she sniffed around a particular thicket before calling three times. Nothing; continuing to call we left her so that she could look for her cubs without distraction. But our next encounter with Rusha was back in the same area as we’d first heard her signal that morning; she and Temi were back in the same area and once more out of sight.
Returning to others, we must have just missed their attempt on the zebra. We first spotted Kela walking back from Grand Canyon panting heavily. It wasn’t long before she met up with Kwandi and Leya. A little further North West was Loma and Zulu. The three sub-groups eventually came together and resettled after what should have been an easy catch…
It didn’t take long though as on the afternoon of the 26th the pride was in Northern Kariba in two sub-groups. The 4KL girls made up one group and Rusha, Temi and Zulu (possibly with cubs) a few hundred metres away in the Northern boundary. In the middle of the two groups was the skeletal remains of a zebra kill which certainly hadn’t been there on the 24th. With the other group too far into the boundary to observe we returned to the foursome who had stuffed themselves around a bush.
It took a while before there were any signs of life, but Kela began making her way towards the riverbed and waterpan 1. After a few minutes, Loma led Leya and Kwandi in the same direction. However, the trio didn’t get far before Loma lowered herself into a crouch. Approximately 200m ahead of the group was a herd of roughly 20 impala. The herd was already letting out warning calls, presumably as a result of Kela having travelled through the area. Kwandi and Leya found a decent place to watch from, but with bellies already bulging from the recent zebra feast they did little more than that.
Kwandi and Leya
By the morning of the 27th the pride was still in the same area of the site, albeit the other side of the river bed, but were still scattered in a couple of different groups over a few hundred metres. We first came across Zulu by himself. About 100-odd metres north of him was Kela, Kwandi and Temi, whilst Leya, Loma, Rusha and the cubs were about 100m the other side of him. It had taken a fair while to find a safe route through the area to reach the lions and by the time we’d actually got to them, it was getting so hot hopes weren’t high for much life.
Later in the morning we found however that Temi and the Ks had moved closer to the main road. It was possible they’d followed a herd of zebra and impala, whose recent tracks were evident across the road. Zulu had joined the Ls and Rs group by mid-morning and RS2 was busy showing off his skills with a stick. Meanwhile, RS3 was enjoying a grooming from Rusha and gave mum a good grooming back, before as usual getting too excited and biting and clawing at Rusha’s face. As RS2’s attention was then drawn to Rusha’s tail, he discarded the stick and pounced repeatedly as she tried to swat flies from her back. With RS3 mauling her face and RS2 hanging off her tail, Rusha gave up and moved several metres away to try and enjoy some rest in the more sedate company of Loma.
Rusha and RS3
On the 30th we managed to sneak in for an hour or two in the afternoon, with plenty more rain hitting the site over the previous few days the roads are becoming more than a little treacherous. It took some time to reach the lions, whilst we were able to hear that their signals were coming from the North West of the site finding a safe route took the better part of the afternoon. When we did come across them between pans 1 and 3, Kela was leading them East. The seven adults plonked themselves down just before reaching pan 3, sitting in a light shower watching a herd of impala about 150m away from them. It didn’t take long before the thunder started rumbling towards the North of the site, and over the next 20 minutes got closer and closer. With the lions seemingly not interested in the impala and another storm rolling in, it was time to leave.