Having been released at less than three-and-a half years old – and now turning four this month, Zulu (and his pride) is only just reaching maturity. With adulthood, comes new responsibilities, and with this, the introduction of a new repertoire of behaviours. Over the last few months we’ve seen a big increase in the frequency with which Zulu is scent marking; a form of advertisement of his ownership of the territory. There’s also been a notable increase in the occurrence of a display called Flehman, whereby the lion grimaces so that a scent can pass over an olfactory organ in the roof of the mouth; this is often performed by males to assess reproductive status in females. Of course before Zulu can do anything about that, he needs the females to be receptive and in oestrus.
On the 26th we found the pride scattered around waterpan 3 all resting except for Loma and Zulu who were alert and keeping watch to the West, mostly due to a growing congregation of vultures who were swarming around a recently used scavenge site. Not long after our arrival Loma began to call softly. Standing, Zulu went straight over to her and appeared to begin to mount her. No mating occurred and Loma wriggled out from under him before rubbing up against him with tail aloft and moving five metres away to urinate. How ladylike. Zulu sniffed the spot where she had been resting and grimaced, passing scent over the Jacobson’s organ. Showing no further interest in her, and with Loma neither displaying any signs of oestrus or interest in Zulu we can only assume he mis-read the signals.
Moving later that morning further West into Kariba and back to the recent scavenge site, despite their being not a scrap of meat left seven sets of lion eyes kept guard on the rather peeved vultures.
Loma & Rusha
This morning (27th) the pride had relocated to the East of the site and were in Tsavo. We first caught sight of Zulu, apparently at first glance alone – something we don’t often see. But shortly after, Rusha came marching round a clump of trees and beelined in for a greeting. Normally, Zulu and Rusha are thick as thieves – either resting close to each other or if the pride is moving walking alongside next to one another. But this morning Zulu appeared to have other things on his mind and slapped Rusha to the ground. As the largest female in the pride and Zulu’s current number 1, she’s used to getting her own way. But as Zulu stood over her and puffed out his chest, she submitted instantly rolling on her back; probably the only time we’ve seen him have a short fuse with any of the girls.
Zulu & Rusha
The question still remained as to the whereabouts of the rest of the pride; their signals indicated they were close by but there was no sign of them… until we drove around the other side of the thicket from which Rusha had emerged and found them resting about 50-60m away. With Rusha keeping Zulu company, we decided to keep the girls company and it wasn’t long before we heard Zulu calling. Only Loma responded, whilst Kela, Kwandi, Leya and Temi simply watched to see what was going on.
As the calling from Zulu became quieter we could surmise he was moving off (all the while calling). Loma was up on her feet at this point, and Rusha came marching back around the trees to join her before the pair doubled back towards their four pride mates, moaning and head rubbing seemingly in an effort to get everyone else up on their feet.
Several minutes passed between Zulu leaving and Kela leading the females towards Sahara and the group reunited with Zulu at the top of the Lusaka road.
Looking for Zulu
Bolstered by his ladies, Zulu then took over the helm leading them along the road, stopping for a quick spray and a scrape. As Leya moved past him he moved up behind and alongside her; lowering his head before grimacing. He’s still got a good few years yet before he’s at his prime weight and size, but as he led his pride East through the site it seemed Zulu might at last be realising who is in charge of this pride… if only he could get the six females to realise that!
Zulu & Leya