After many weeks of increasingly stifling weather conditions and very little movement from the pride, conditions finally broke on the 4th of September with overcast skies and cooler temperatures; perfect lion watching conditions.
On that morning we initially found Loma by herself in the North of Kariba, with Leya, Zulu, Rusha and Kwandi’s signal about 100 or so metres further North East of her. We could pick up the faintest echo of Kela’s signal and knowing that she’s often at the back of a move, with the LE cubs, we took a gamble and set off in search of the absentees. First, however, we discovered RS1, RS3, LE1, LE2 and LE3 at waterpan 3. It’s always a treat to find the youngsters by themselves as, without radio collars themselves, they are virtually impossible to find unless they’re with the adults.
There has been a slight suppression in play behaviour of late, which may or may not be due to Zulu’s increasingly intolerant attitude towards his offspring and their much more cautious nature these days. Yet, on this morning, unaccompanied, all caution was thrown to the wind as the five sub-adults stalked, chased, jumped on each other and generally let off a little steam. It was almost a unanimous awareness that seemed to settle over them however, as the play eased off for a few minutes and they monitored Kela and RS2’s approach from Grand Canyon direction towards the waterpan. A brief greeting from LE3 and LE2 and Kela continued on her way. Despite some clear signs of considering following, the six sub-adults remained at the waterpan and at their own private party. The high-jinks continued for some time, until Leya appeared from the West and the LEs bounded over to greet and jump all over her. RS2 began to approach too but was met with a slightly puffed up and hostile reception from Leya. The young male stood his ground, and pulled himself up to every inch he could muster – but didn’t push his luck either. Leya then led the six a short distance West before meeting up with the rest of the pride midway between the waterpan and the area we’d first encountered most of the adults.
RS2 kept a wary distance between himself and the others and settled on a bend in the road. With the riverbed on one side of the road and some uninviting potholes on the other there was no way past him and the majority of the pride were hidden around the subsequent twists and turns in the road. All was peaceful initially with the 12 reunited, until RS1, RS3, LE1, LE2, LE3 came racing back along the road before turning into Puku Dambo. No great surprise to find Zulu was charging along after them. We lost visual of the youngsters in the tall grass, but could still see Zulu well enough and he jinked and twisted, seemingly after one individual. That one individual we soon ascertained as the remainder of the cohort made their way out of the grass to safety was RS3. The once feisty and bold young lady has been noticeably more subdued of late. This could be due to getting older and less playful, or could have something to do with Zulu who has increasingly made her the primary object of these bouts of aggression – the lacerations on her flanks over the last week hint to the latter.
The RSs may be slightly under siege of late, but they have a couple of things on their side – their superior speed and agility over the lumbering, hulking Zulu, and their mother’s tenacity. As Zulu trotted back having seen RS3 off, it was barely five minutes before she marched straight back into the group, found her mother and favourite aunt and wedged herself securely between them.
We thought we’d had just about our share of activity for that morning before Leya once more led the pride on a move along the edges of the northern tree line.
Our trio of young males, RS2, LE1 and LE3, stopped briefly to marvel at the wonders of a monkey orange tree, with LE1 scaling the dizzying heights to shake some of those fruits. As he raced back down, LE2 joined them and had a go herself, watched on by her brothers.
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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