The evolving relationship between Zulu and RS2 has been a dominant factor in Dambwa for the last few months; this has become particularly prominent towards the end of March into early April. RS2 is now approaching 22 months old, which is still a little way off the 2.5-3.5-year-old mark when sub-adults are deemed independent and may typically emigrate from their natal pride (Schaller, 1972). The most conspicuous feature of the change in dynamic is that RS2 seems to found more frequently on the periphery of the pride, although a few aggressive encounters between father and son have also been observed. It has been observed that Zulu’s response to his oldest boy is somewhat erratic, as he will in equal measures permit him to sit within the main group of the pride, that he will growl a warning, or occasionally charge him and force the young male to sit 20-40m away.
The ousting of both male and female off-spring is primarily correlated to the arrival of new adult males in a pride’s range (Hanby & Bygott, 1987), which of course is not a feature that is relevant in the Dambwa release site. There is however, an anecdotal suggestion that sub-adults may become increasingly unwelcome in the pride after the age of 18 months. It is still unclear whether the situation between RS2 and Zulu is the beginning of an ousting or merely a readjustment in the balance of their relationship. If this is the former, RS2 may take some small comfort in the fact that if Zulu is to become intolerant of his male offspring, then RS2 may shortly be joined by his younger brothers, LE1 and LE3. Important to note is that RS2 is still accepted by the rest of the pride – especially his sisters, RS1 and RS3.
By the 9th of April, a lot of the tension that had been observed seemed to have dissipated somewhat, with all of the pride members resting peacefully and in close contact. While RS2 enjoyed being surrounded by his pride without any conflict, another young man was showing some love for RS2’s mother.
LE1 is certainly the most social of the LE cubs at this point in their lives. While sister LE2 is more a mischievous force, often initiating an ankle tap on an unsuspecting passer-by, and brother LE3 is shaping up to be a typical boy (interested predominantly in the virtues of sleep), LE1 seems to enjoy nothing more than hanging out with the ladies and engaging in a bit of social behaviour. Obviously mum Leya is his most frequent target but, quite frankly, anyone will do to give the young male his fix of attention. That morning, Rusha was his chosen subject and resultantly, was on the receiving end of a whopping 12-and-a half minute grooming session from the young man.
The highlight of the pride’s day seemed to be just before midday when an enormous flock of Marabou storks passed overhead. These enormous birds are gregarious even out of breeding season, and may be found in colonies numbering 20 to several thousand pairs. We lost count after 200 and, even though the colony-on-the-move may not have reached numbers in the thousands, it was an impressive sight; the lions certainly thought so too. As ever when large birds are involved, Zulu’s eyes were practically popping out of his head as he stared upwards, and the rest of the pride also woke from their slumber to eyeball the avian travellers.
The rainy season seems to have reinstated itself over April; even though this is traditionally a month of transition from rains to dry weather. Either way, an almighty storm thundered its way through Livingstone overnight on Sunday 12th to create a new "aqua version" of Dambwa on the morning of the 13th. After very carefully navigating the roads, we eventually found the lions resting just off of Easy Street between Pans 2 and 3, following a scavenge opportunity that had been placed in that area the previous day. With full bellies, the morning was initially slow-going and things remained peaceful enough between Zulu and RS2.
On the 15th of April, some veterinary work was undertaken in the site. This time, instead of the adults, it was the RS sub-adults and LE cubs that were the focus. All six received vaccinations, however at 22-months old the RS girls are entering a stage where in the coming months they may enter oestrous. It is rare for lions that young to breed, but not unheard of either. Therefore, RS3 was also sedated and a contraceptive implant which will be effective for approximately the next 2 years was injected beneath her skin, as well as an identifying microchip. RS1 and LE2 will also undergo the same treatment in the coming months.