August 17 2015
A Meal in the Air
We initially found RS1 and RS3 in the company of Kwandi and Loma on the morning of the 25th of July. Radio collar signals suggested the rest of the pride were close by, but out of sight. RS1 soon spotted something, which turned out to be her brother, RS2, approaching from the south. When he was about 50m from the foursome he almost tripped over a francolin and immediately gave chase. Leaping up in the air several times as it tried to fly away, he smacked the bird with his front paws, but was denied his reward as RS1 snatched it from under his nose as it came back down to earth. She scampered off with it in her jaws, more than happy to take advantage of RS2’s hard work.
The activity drew Rusha, Kela and Zulu out of hiding, but there was no sign of Leya and the LE cubs for several more minutes. When the family joined the pride LE1 rushed over to greet Zulu and was met with bared teeth and a swiping paw. LE1 is a very social youngster and seems, possibly the most popular of the younger pride members with the adult contingent, so the reaction he received certainly appeared to jolt him. Leaping out of Zulu’s way he sat close to his aunt Loma, perhaps for reassurance, and began vocalising quietly. As his siblings joined the group, LE2 wisely gave Zulu a wide berth but LE3, who had been quite a long way behind and potentially missed the interaction between Zulu and his brother, went straight in for a greeting with his father - which curiously was accepted peacefully.
Some quieter calmer days followed towards the end of the month, with no real action to speak of until the 3rd of August. The pride was in the north east of the site, in Tsavo. Having devoured a scavenge overnight the RSs and LEs were busy keeping the gathering vultures at bay. Zulu had been mostly out of sight throughout the early part of the morning, concealed in tall grass, and could be heard gnawing on bones. Finally having gotten his fill he emerged from the towering golden grass, and was nearly knocked off of his feet as the majority of the pride raced in to see what, if anything, he had left.
After everyone except Kwandi, Loma and the LE cubs disappearing into the area Zulu had just vacated it seemed they had apparently found a little something for everyone. Perhaps though it was too little for too many, as shortly thereafter some growls and snarls could be heard. Zulu was only sitting about 15m away on the road and immediately stood and marched over to where the growls were emanating from. We couldn’t see who but from Zulu’s posture it was clear that with chest puffed out he was stood over someone, rising up to the very limit of his height in a clear show of dominance. An all-too-familiar swipe of his massive paw, a threatening growl and a lunge at the poor unfortunate sent everyone scattering in all directions.
The following morning we encountered the RS trio alone in north Kariba. It’s not often we find the youngsters by themselves, so we elected to stay with them rather than immediately look for the rest of the pride. The trio seemed slightly tense however, and the reason as to why that might be very quickly presented itself. To the south, we soon saw a lone figure approaching which turned out to be Rusha. As she got to within about 100m of her offspring RS3 suddenly shot to her feet and RS1 was immediately by her side. It seemed a little strange that they weren’t approaching her, and all of sudden RS3 began sprinting away in the opposite direction. From behind Rusha, Zulu came charging down the road at first trotting, but before long breaking into a full sprint. RS3 picked up her pace and RS1 joined her. RS2, the object of so much of Zulu’s attention over recent months, seemed undecided as to what to do and instead of racing away with his sisters calmly began walking, looking at the ground and calling softly. He’d managed to keep a 40-50m buffer between himself and Zulu, before Zulu stopped short and began roaring. We could no longer see RS1 or RS3, but RS2 was just about visible behind a small thicket. As quickly as he arrived, having finished his roar, Zulu turned heel and marched back along the road in the direction from which he had come. On passing Rusha she lowered herself to the ground and we saw her give him a full flash of teeth.
Not wanting to lose track of the RSs we decided to head to where RS2 was and found he was now with RS1 – but there was no sign of RS3. A few moments later and we heard Rusha calling, presumably to her offspring, and as RS1 confidently began walking towards her, RS2 remained rooted to the spot as RS3 arrived from the North to join him. The pair remained on a slight hill surveying the area before following their sister a few minutes later, where she was waiting for them in pretty much the same spot as we’d first encountered the trio. With no sign of Rusha, RS1 led her siblings in the direction in which we’d seen Zulu depart, and some minutes later they came across the pride. Unfortunately between them and the pride was Zulu, and surprisingly after a very brief pause RS1 strode past him. Whether emboldened by his sister or perhaps aware the danger had passed, RS2 soon followed suit. RS3 remained very still in the road for several minutes before, tentatively at first, and then at a speedy trot, rushing past Zulu to the safety of the pride. This time there was no reaction to the RSs from Zulu… but it had certainly been a curious start to the day.
Tempers cooled in the days that followed with the pride mostly holed up in Kariba until the 8th. Early that morning we finally found they had shifted to a small clearing between several dense thickets in Chisamu. Despite having been mostly in one area for the preceding few days, each day we had noticed fresh tracks criss-crossing the site’s roads indicating that they might be fairly static whilst we were there, but they’d certainly been up to plenty when we weren’t. Nonetheless it was a pleasant change of scene that morning all over-looked by a brown snake eagle perched nearby. Zulu was very low-key; when we first arrived, just as the sun was rising, he was not with the rest of the pride but could be heard calling to their North, perhaps having rounded up his routine patrols of the area. Even when he did arrive he stopped only for a brief minute before heading off once more… only to return quarter of an hour later and place himself about 100m on the outskirts of the group - with no RS bullying on the agenda.
About the Dambwa Lion Release Site
The 6 adults (1 male and 5 females) of the ‘Dambwa Pride’ were captive born and released into the ‘Dambwa Lion Release Site’ in 2011, having been walked in the rehabilitation phase of the ex situ conservation project, the African Rehabilitation and Release into the Wild Programme. The pride’s 6 offspring (3 male and 3 females) were born in the site and have had no human contact, display natural behaviours, and are intended for release into the wild in the final phase of the Programme.
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