New territory for the Dambwa pride
September 24 2012

As is often the case, the big events rarely give us much warning that they’re coming; as proven in Dambwa over the last week. Things started off on the 16th pretty much the same as usual and all was quiet on the Western front as the pride rested contentedly in the West of Kariba close to Waterpan 1. Temi dared to be different and went for a short stroll to the pan, before returning five minutes later. But the lions had found a rather well shaded little cove of trees and that’s where they were staying.

Temi heads to the waterpan solo

By the end of the week on the 21st the pride was certainly in “livelier” form…

We found everyone resting at waterpan 2 early in the morning. Kela, Kwandi, Loma and Temi were resting in a huddle together and we could make out the forms of Leya and Zulu at opposite sides of the pan. Not long after we arrived Rusha waddled out of the grass and made her way over to Kela and greeted her before settling down next to Loma.

Kela and Zulu

Zulu next approached the group and bee-lined straight for Kela, as he got closer she growled and took a swipe at him and moved off towards the waterpan, tail flicking in the air. Zulu made a U-turn and was at her side she as sat back down… There was little doubt this was going to be an interesting morning. Kela confirmed our suspicions of what was about to happen between the pair when she stood walked over to Zulu and climbed on his head, before he crawled out from under her and mated with her, all overseen by Leya on the other side of the waterpan.

Zulu mounts Kela

A successive attempt by Zulu is met with a warning from Kela

Mating can be initiated by either the male or female and it seemed in the case of Kela and Zulu the lady is most definitely calling the shots. Zulu tried at various points over the next few hours to approach and mount Kela – all rebuffed, but whenever Kela approached him she would allow him to mate her – and she did. Frequently. Lionesses in full estrus can mate as often as every minute, but average intervals tend to be around the 12 minute mark. However, this can vary considerably depending on the stage of oestrus.

After the third mating session, and countless, fruitless attempts by Zulu, Leya had had enough of all the noise and began moving West. If she was hoping for some peace and quiet she could forget it as everyone tagged on – including Kela and Zulu. Courting couples tend not to move very far and are therefore often separated from the rest the pride during mating as others drift away to tend to other matters; but only being in the early stages of oestrus Kela seemed keen to keep in contact with the rest of pride – for now. As one would expect, during the move Zulu kept close tabs on Kela covering her the entire time as she paraded in front of him with tail aloft. A male usually stays within a metre of a lioness in full oestrus; Zulu allowed Kela to wander a little further than that but certainly made sure to keep her in sight. After 30 minutes and another mating bout between Kela and Zulu, Kwandi led the pride to pan 3 to the relief of a restless Temi and Loma.

Later in the morning the pride was still at pan 3 in the shade of a pathetically small velvet bushwillow. Loma was sat about 20m away from the rest of the pride and shortly after ambled over towards the group. Big mistake. As she neared, Zulu launched himself at her growling. Loma immediately backed down and moved several metres away. As Zulu repositioned himself back next to Kela he remained huffing and growling as Loma edged back behind the pride. Once more he went for her chasing her 10m away and throwing the rest of the pride into disarray. Rusha moved to safety over the other side of the pan and Temi tried to move away but got caught in the cross-fire and was chased off by a now furious Zulu.

Temi runs from a furious Zulu, as Loma rolls on her back in submission

Hooking up with Loma, Temi and she moved to a safe distance together whilst Zulu allowed Kwandi and Leya to remain next to him and Kela, before trying to mount her again and being rebuffed. We had to leave the pride for a short time, but on returning we found Kwandi, Leya, Loma, Rusha and Temi resting together by the pan while Zulu was about 50m away from them and Kela a further 50-60m from him.

The following day and Zulu and Kela were now well and truly on their own. Whilst the pride was still more or less in the same section of the site, two distinct groups were at either end. We first encountered Kwandi, Leya, Loma and Rusha in the North of Kariba whilst Kela and Zulu were in the South West section of the area. Temi was notable by her absence that afternoon; a weak signal coming from the Sanga boundary suggests our youngest pride member wants some peace and quiet away from the social turbulence in her pride.

Kela and Zulu on the 22nd

We observed the couple mate once throughout the afternoon, but spent most of the time with the four girls in the north of the site. A gruesomely hot and humid afternoon unsurprisingly yielded very little activity except for the repeated scanning of the area from Loma who would snap out of sleep, sit bolt upright and look all around. But if she was keeping an eye out for the bad-tempered and ill-mannered Zulu she needn’t worry just yet. Kela will likely remain in heat for 4-7 days during which time, as long as Loma keeps out of the way, Zulu should be otherwise engaged.

Rusha and Loma engage in some synchronised sleeping


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