Puku beware...
May 26 2013

The morning of the 18th May started off with a rare sighting of some puku in Kariba – an adult male and a sub-adult male were grazing on the fresh shoots of grass springing up in the burnt portion of the site. The puku are fairly elusive and we haven’t seen that much of them since before the rains started, but the nutritious food was drawing them out of their hiding places.

Approximately 150m further along the road the pride was resting under one of their favourite trees in the area. As Leya rose to change position she spotted them and in the blink of an eye was running to find cover (not easy to do when most of the vegetation was burnt away in the fire). Her pride mates were instantly alert and seconds later Temi followed suit, before one by one the rest of the pride followed. We stayed put; stuck behind a tree we couldn’t see what the lions were doing and unable to move in case the vehicle’s engine interfered with things. Minutes after being left on our own we heard the unmistakable alarm whistle of the puku…  As we trundled around the tree we could see the puku making a dash across Kariba towards Water pan 1; Temi only 20 to 30m behind them but clearly putting the brakes on her efforts. Kela seemed to momentarily give some thought to continuing the hunt but soon decided against it and the scattered pride joined up further south along the road and resumed rest for the remainder of day.

The pride watch the puku disappear

A much more active pride greeted us on the afternoon of the 20th of May. Initially however we had a lot of trouble finding them. They’re signals were all emitting from the Bwizu area close to pan 2 but no matter how many bushes we looked under and clumps of tall grass we searched through we just couldn’t find the lions. Eventually, Zulu emerged and sprawled across the road between Bwizu and Puku Dambo. The girls’ signals were in the area but not immediately close by, having had no luck on our own in locating them we chose to stick with Zulu and he dutifully led us to Loma who flew out of the bushes at him.

As we were recording the interactions they both started off… but in different directions. By the time we’d manoeuvred the vehicle to follow one or other of them they’d both vanished. Another pain-staking search finally led us to the thicket that runs from Water Pan 2 south towards the Lusaka Road. If we had of been 10 seconds later or 10 seconds earlier we probably would have missed the seven blurry tawny forms snaking their way through the towering grass.

They were heading East through a potholed, vehicle unfriendly area. So we followed anyway and hoped for the best.

On the border of Chisamu and Tsavo

After bumping along for 10 minutes or so, we were eventually led out on to the Lusaka Road and firmer territory. Leya and Zulu brought up the rear while Temi propelled the train onwards up towards Tsavo. 

The pride halted on the road between Chisamu and Tsavo, with heads swivelling in every direction. We could hear a rustling in the grass to our left but couldn’t see the source. After doing a lap of a bush Temi continued East with Loma trailing her. After they’d disappeared along the road, Kwandi led sister Kela in the same direction.

Unable to see Rusha, Leya and Zulu anymore we decided to follow the Ks. Just as we caught up to them we saw that Loma had now joined the sisters whilst we caught a glimpse of Temi probably about 50m away now heading in the opposite direction. Following the KLs, we reached Kulibe; an expanse of about 150m² of densely packed trees and bushes. Early in the rainy season this had been a popular hunting spot for the pride – with the impala thinking they were safely hidden in the thick cover. Just as we reached the border of Kulibe, Leya suddenly came trotting along the road to join her sisters. At this point, Kela and Kwandi headed left along the boundary of the trees whilst Loma led Leya along the opposite boundary. They’d picked up on something and we weren’t going to be the reason the hunt failed and so with no chance of seeing anything anyway, decided to make ourselves scarce.

Leya hurries to catch up with the rest of the KL grouping

We never saw Temi or Rusha again for the rest of the afternoon but did find the slow plodding form of Zulu trundling along the road towards the KL posse. We left, hoping that if the girls’ hunt was successful they’d manage to get a decent feed first before he stole it from them.

Puku

A rare sight greeted us on the morning of the 23rd. The elusive puku are being drawn from their hiding places thanks to the new shoots of grass that are springing up in Kariba following the fire last month. We’ve hardly seen them at all since December before the rains started but this morning there was a group of seven – including two juveniles - munching away on the fresh shoots. Luckily for them, the pride wasn’t in this part of the site and they could graze in peace. The lions instead were snoring their way through the day on the borders of Bwizu and Puku Dambo. Zulu huffed around the area for the first part of the morning but the girls were mere infrequent blurs in the tall grass.

Zulu

The lions were back in Kariba by the 24th; but before we located them our attention was so fixed on a lone puku grazing that we very almost missed the stalking figure of Temi gliding through the random patches of grass left by the fire in this area. Coming to a halt, it initially looked like we’d ruined Temi’s chances as the puku’s gaze had followed our vehicle and led it almost directly to Temi, who now stood frozen to the spot about 50m from the puku.

Temi makes her approach

But unbelievably after a few minutes of checking us out the puku lowered its head once more and began to eat. Temi crept forward, inch by inch, taking extra care to place her paws gently so that the scorched grass and dirt beneath her feet didn’t crunch and give her away. An agonising two or three minutes passed as Temi would advance, the puku would briefly look up and scan the area, then go back to feeding and the process would repeat. Having halved the distance, Temi crept towards a small shrub for extra cover… but there was someone else hiding here. A guinea fowl flew up into the air screeching its surprise and acting like a 10-foot flashing arrow over Temi’s head alerting the puku to the nearby danger.

With the puku fleeing for safety, Temi slunk back round the way she came, we followed her – presumably back to the pride a little further north of where the hunt had taken place. Passing usual best bud Kela without so much as a glance – never mind a head rub – Temi placed herself in the middle of the group. Moments later Rusha rose and crossed the 10m or so to the new arrival. If the huntress was irritated at the guinea fowl for ruining the hunt, or her pride mates for failing to assist her efforts Temi’s aloofness soon melted away as Rusha placated her with a long grooming session.

Rusha (left) and Temi (right)

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