Fire, quills and noses
May 22 2012

Zulu watches the vultures

Vulture watching was the order of the day on 16th in Dambwa. Despite the pride having fed overnight on the 13th or early on the 14th the main activity of the morning was monitoring the passing vultures and eagles as they inspected the site from the air. The first session of the morning passed in comatose fashion; we were lucky enough to witness Rusha briefly sit up and groom herself, but other than that we had to settle for ear twitches in the grass.



Loma and Zulu were wide awake by mid-morning and watching the vultures over the site. Whilst not perhaps the most dramatically exciting activity to observe it is encouraging to see that they are monitoring the activity of the vultures which regularly visit the site; hopefully a behaviour they’ll pass on to any cubs when the time comes, which in turn will serve them well in a wild setting in leading them to scavenging opportunities.

May is also a busy time for birthdays in Dambwa with Kela and Kwandi turning four on the 3rd May and Leya and Loma reaching the same age on the 26th of the month. More than just a token milestone it means our attention turns to these lions’ noses. We’ve been collecting photos of all the lions’ noses in the Zambian program every year around their birthdays for several years now. This is to assist Dr Pieter Kat with a long-term study to assess the viability of ageing wild lions through nose pigmentation. To read more on this project please click here

Loma's nose

Loma's nose

This is easier said than done. In a controlled setting, such as an enclosure, it’s difficult enough – even when you are able to call the lions to the fence in an attempt to get their attention and a take decent picture. Of course we do not interact with the lions in the release sites; and this includes calling to them. So after hours of waiting for each of the four concerned lions to sit up, then hope that they turn and face our direction… and then hope that the grass doesn’t get in the way, it’s taken the better part of two weeks, but we’ve finally got a usuable picture of all four’s snouts.

The next few days passed in relative peace in the site; that was until the afternoon of the 21st. Burning has been on-going around the site to create a break between the release area and the rest of the forest to prevent wild fires entering the site during the dry season. Unfortunately some of these were not sufficient to keep an absolutely ginormous blaze from the South jumping the breaks and sweeping through the site. Whilst several teams battled throughout the afternoon to control fires both in and outside of the site, the lions stayed close to the western boundary looking rather perplexed at all the frantic activity. Even when some of the flames got to within 100m of them, you would have been hard pushed to find seven more relaxed cats.

Rusha & Leya

Rusha & Leya

Kwandi, Leya and Zulu however, whilst seeming nonplussed about the belching smoke closing in on them, were carrying some rather painful trophies from an encounter with a porcupine! We’ve never even seen a porcupine in the site, but clearly the pride had stumbled across one earlier and Kwandi and Zulu both had several spines lodged beneath their chins while Leya had a number in her right front leg. Zulu was also noted to be very slightly limping. A new lesson for the pride hopefully learnt!

Thankfully when all was said and done, all the pride – and breeding program lions – as well as staff and volunteers who battled for several hours to keep danger at bay finished the day off safe and well. If a touch singed.

Kwandi (above), Zulu (below)





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