Over the last few weeks the first signs of winter have slowly, but surely, started to creep into the release site. With the mornings becoming increasingly cooler, we have started to observe a slight shift and increase in liveliness in the pride. Nevertheless, regardless of the weather or climate, these lazy lions still always seem to have an ample amount of time reserved for their resting. Over the last few weeks, however, the pride has developed a fondness for the northern treeline region of the site, which has somewhat hampered our research efforts as it is more challenging for us to observe them in this area. When this happens, our research either comes to a standstill halfway through a session, or simply does not have the opportunity to commence as the pride remains resolutely hidden and out of sight.
We were lucky however; on the morning of the 15th of May the lions occupied a slightly more convenient location in Kariba, very much to our satisfaction. Bizarrely though, as soon as we located the pride, Rusha’s three cubs- RS1, RS2 and RS3- were nowhere to be found. Conversely, Rusha lay very calmly in the early morning sun, surrounded by a cluster of LE cubs. As the cubs get older, they become less dependent on their mothers, so even though it seemed unusual that the RSs were absent, it wasn’t too worrisome. It wasn’t much later before we began to hear a few soft calls- conceivably 200 metres south of the pride’s location. As soon as the calls were heard, Rusha and a few other members of the pride immediately sat up with their ears pricked. A little while later RS3, followed by RS1 and RS2, appeared from out of the grass. RS1 bounded straight over to greet his father Zulu, then proceeded to sit on top of Leya’s head, and finally he pranced off through the group to find a warm spot in the sun. RS3, usually the most exuberant one of the three RSs, seemed somewhat hesitant to join them initially, but after a few moments she sauntered over and plopped herself down next to RS1. The last one to join the group was RS2- seemingly the most hesitant and unsure of all three. In watching RS2’s delay and uncertainty of how to approach the group, we assumed that some tension may be creeping back between the young male and his father, even though there has appeared to be harmony between them for the past several weeks. Settling on a spot slightly away from the pride, it was evident that he was slightly nervous and that is when we noted several scratches and cuts on his rear legs. Though it is merely speculation that the wounds are the result of renewed disputes between the father and son, Zulu does seem a likely contender. Later that morning, during a leisurely grooming session, several more injuries became visible under Rusha’s jaw too – whether she became involved in an incident between Zulu and RS2 is again merely conjecture. But the one thing that we are certain of is: if RS2 wants anyone as his ally- it is definitely Rusha.
On the 20th of May, we discovered the pride at the third water pan, utterly gorged in a state of inactivity, after enjoying a hearty meal the previous day. The enthusiastic little RS1 brought some energy into the day’s proceedings when she elected herself as the ‘vulture monitor’- chasing them away from the scraps of their meal that were scattered around the pride’s resting area. Having chased them away, she turned her attention to the Cape Turtle Doves who were attempting to drink from the water pan, before finally harassing a flock of Guineafowl. However, it was only after all of this that the most action happened, as Zulu emerged with a pile of meat that he had been hoarding throughout the morning. As he brought it out into the open, each one of the lions instantly moved, almost in unison, towards Zulu. This, in turn, had a foreseeable finale as a furious Zulu began snarling and swiping at them to retreat. Rather sensibly everyone withdrew, and whilst the cubs looked for reassurance from their mothers, Zulu settled in the shade with his snack by his side for later.
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