It may be a slight exaggeration to say that winter’s arrival has totally transformed the Dambwa pride; however, there certainly have been some interesting developments in Dambwa that have helped the research team wave goodbye to the long, slow summer months. The last few weeks have certainly shown the beginning of a new season, and this refers not only to the weather.
May 30th gave the first hint that a change was on the way. Whilst all in the same area, the 12 lions were split into smaller sub-groupings across the West of the Kariba area. Initially, we decided to settle with Leya, Zulu, LE2, LE3 and RS1 and quietly watch what this group had in store for us. The three youngsters were enjoying the cooler weather and keeping themselves entertained with a variety of branches, old bones, and anything else that could be classified as a toy. Even Leya, who is normally a fairly reserved individual, couldn’t keep her enjoyment of the cool morning air in check as she joined RS1 in launching herself at Zulu’s rear end as he tried to spray some nearby bushes. It was as entertaining for us as it was annoying for the pride male.
Over the next 30 minutes or so, the sub-groupings converged one by one until the pride was back together as a single unit. Of course, after a temporary separation between brothers and sisters, parents and offspring, and general pride mates there was the inevitable deluge of social interactions and play. It seems that RS1’s primary instinct when being reunited with mother and sister seems to be biting them around the face as much as possible- so naturally, mother Rusha was the first victim. The reunion, particularly Kwandi’s return, prompted young LE3 to drag Kwandi to the ground and engage in a lengthily bout of rolling around on the floor. On and on the chaos went until steam was literally rising off of our notebooks and data sheets as we tried to keep up with the avalanche of interactions that had suddenly overtaken the Dambwa pride.
With so much energy spent on the 30th, proceedings took a little slump at the start of June - until the morning of the 9th that is. The pride was initially in the South East of the site in an area called Chisamu; dotted about in various groups, the lions were hard at work polishing off the last odds and ends of the previous day’s scavenging opportunity. A short time after 8am, Loma began meandering through the groups calling softly until she located the pride member she’d been seeking; Zulu. With a lavish head rub and a flick of the tail, she continued on her path and soon had not just Zulu, but sister Leya, the LE cubs, Kwandi, as well as RS2 and RS3 trailing in her wake. With some vocal encouragement, RS1 enticed mother Rusha into following in a second wave – leaving only Kela remaining with the bones and scraps.
As we stuck to the roads keeping track of the pride’s movements, the lions weaved in and out of view until reaching waterpan 2 for a brief drink, where they were joined by straggling pridemate Kela. A few minutes of rest and it became apparent that we had once more lost Loma – who promptly made herself known 100m or so further West when her calls could again be heard. With everyone up on their feet once more, they regrouped with their missing counterpart and forged further on to pan 3 where they settled down once again. With the lions finally stationery, the pride seemed to be bedded in for the day as mid-morning approached. Soon after we had settled in to a comfortable viewing position, Leya became increasingly vigilant and it became apparent that the anticipated morning rest was not going to be for very much longer.
We scanned the skies for vultures, as well as the surrounding area for any sign of an oblivious impala, in an effort to ascertain what had caught Leya’s attention but whatever it was, it was certainly not obvious. Suddenly, Leya was up and marching West with the rest of the pride on her heels until they reached the border of Puku Dambo and the Kariba area.
For lions to be so active at midday is rare, although not entirely unheard of provided there is a good reason; however in this instance, with the added dynamic of full bellies, it certainly was an unexpected amount of travel on what we had anticipated to be a particularly uneventful morning.
Just before midday, the pride moved into the Kariba area once again. We never did get to the bottom of what had prompted them to cover more or less the entire length of the release site throughout the morning, but if this is an indication of what’s in store for the rest of the season, we certainly will not be complaining.
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