On the 28th February, we found the pride in two groups, this was very exciting as this does not often happen. It was also rather useful, as the first group we came across was completely hidden from view. We first encountered Zulu, Kela and Rusha – with certainly some, if not all, of the cubs – in the Kariba area. They had selected an area which was a favourite resting place for the pride last winter, but where we have not seen them for several months now. The area is of course overgrown with thick vegetation, and asides from RS3 repositioning herself within the group and greeting Zulu, we could barely make out the tops of ears, never mind anything else.
Three missing pride members were identified through the telemetry in the forms of Kwandi, Leya and Loma. With this information, we set off in search of them and discovered them just coming to an end of replenishing their thirst at Pan 3. Settling in the grass around the pan, they were slightly more visible than the previous group and not really any more active. A short while later, Leya set off under the watchful eyes of the two other lionesses – heading towards the area where we had seen the rest of the pride earlier. After brief moments of indecision about who to follow, we stuck with Kwandi and Loma. Ten minutes later, however, they set off in the same direction. Anticipating losing all of them to the tall grass, it was a relief when Kwandi brought the move to a halt on the edge of Puku Dambo where we could still see them – however the pair merely resumed their afternoon slumber. The following morning, they were still there and had now been joined by the rest of the pride. Despite this, it was a very quiet morning with nothing more to observe than the odd change of position.
On the morning of the 3rd March, the pride was still in the same spot… The lions do have areas that they favour at certain points in time, but it is unusual to find them in one location for so many days in succession. Clearly, they had found something to their liking in this particular location, the most likely scenario being something to do with food. Puku Dambo is a popular spot in the site; the varying height of the grass at this time of year gives the lions good cover but it is not so tall, like most parts of the forest, that they can’t see over it. It also runs along the northern treeline; which, coupled with the southern Sanga treeline, is much favoured by the impala and puku for cover. Finally, it’s only a couple of hundred metres from one of the water pans, which of course everyone needs to visit from time to time. If this refusal to budge was anything, it looked like a patient ambush with no telling when something would happen.
That morning was overcast and chilly; however, the only difference this made to the lions’ activity was instead of panting for dear life to cope with the overwhelming heat of recent weeks, they were now huddled together for warmth. It seemed that RS1 had found the best spot of the morning, sheltered from the bracing winds wedged between her mother and sister; she looked very much like the cat that had got the cream! Just after 11am, the mood of the morning changed quite rapidly. Rusha suddenly became alert to something of interest. Sitting bolt upright, she scanned the area to the north west of the group’s location before springing to her feet and jogging towards the northern treeline; in a flash the rest of the pride was following. We opted to hang back for a few minutes to allow the cubs to keep track of the adults in the tall grass. However, when we did catch up to them, we were just in time to watch the stragglers disappearing into the treeline and out of view.
After another week of the Puku Dambo sit-in, the lions finally moved further west into Kariba. RS2’s relationship with father, Zulu, has been an area of pride life under a fair amount of change over the last few months, and again we saw some intolerance from Zulu to his oldest son when RS2 got a bit too close to Zulu that morning. Not to be dismayed, aunt Kela was on hand for a reassuring groom, and the young male soon found some solace from his father when Rusha set up a small sub-grouping a short distance away.
After a day away, it was time to get back to Puku Dambo – with more watching and waiting on the itinerary, until the 15th March when the lions shifted tack completely and we found them in the east of the site on the border of Sahara and Tsavo. It was a difficult morning’s viewing, with the pride settled deep within their favourite thicket. But what was clear was that a change in venue seems to have given them the results they’d been waiting for, as Leya, Kwandi and the two RS girls were sporting bright red streaks of blood from a very recent kill.