If ever there was a time for lion watching, winter is it. These few months each year provide some of the best opportunities for not only seeing the lions in action more frequently, but as a consequence, getting more information about behaviour and any changes in roles/positions within the pride. We’ve been treated to some pretty decent sessions in Dambwa over the last few weeks. And some not so decent ones; just for the sake of balance!
On the 27th of June we found the pride in Tsavo, with the majority of the pride resting and interacting in one central group, whilst Zulu was a little way off – about 80m on the outskirts of the pride. His attitude towards his eldest son, RS2, seems to change with the wind; from aggressive, to intolerant, to perfectly happy with RS2’s presence all within the space of a day or two. On that particular morning, RS2 was milling about the area trying to locate a good spot to rest in. Whilst they may not be the picture of familial unity at the moment, RS2 is certainly his father’s son and has picked up on Zulu’s habit of vocalising softly – apparently to himself – as he walks amongst the pride, investigating scents, bushes and other items of curiosity.
RS2’s vocalisations may have been quiet, but Zulu instantly rose out of the grass and, as RS2 continued to vocalise, Zulu began to approach. It was a slightly tense moment as we watched Zulu’s approach and trying to second-guess what his reaction might be. RS2 was so busy sniffing the ground and chatting to himself he didn’t even notice Zulu until there was no escape. On seeing his father’s looming form only 10-15m away, RS2 did the only thing he could – reposition into a submissive crouch and approach Zulu to greet him; and it worked. Zulu accepted the greeting before starting to inspect the area as well. RS2 wisely didn’t push his luck however, and exited stage right to sit amongst his aunts and siblings while Zulu took over the surveying and chatting.
The following morning and the lions were frankly all over the place. We initially located Loma in Sibaka. It is quite rare to find this particular lion alone, so through curiosity we decided to stay with her. After a few minutes we spotted Kwandi 100-150m further East of Loma’s position. Loma also spotted her and began to make her way towards her pride mate. On meeting up, Loma was immediately treated to a mischievous Kwandi who launched herself at her half-sister. Over the course of the morning, first Kela joined the duo, then Zulu and finally Rusha led Leya and their six cubs to join them too.
The morning of the 2nd of July saw the pride finishing off a scavenge opportunity in Chisamu that had been left in the site the previous day. The morning passed relatively peacefully with various lions finishing off pieces around the immediate area. Despite the continuous sound of teeth scraping on bone a number of individuals looked oddly slim considering they had apparently just fed. It soon became clear why. No prizes for guessing who had managed to dominate most of the carcass and was now huffing and puffing at anyone who came close; Zulu, of course.
As the pride’s male chomped and gnawed away at his substantial share of the meal the rest of the pride gathered slowly around him in a curious audience. LE2 showed that whilst she may be small she certainly has the courage of a lion, as the only individual to consistently edge closer, and closer – and closer still, until she finally managed to snatch a small morsel. This brazen challenge sent Zulu into a rage and he charged the other lions repeatedly. After several such charges, RS1 took leave of the group and headed North across the area, and was shortly followed by her siblings, Rusha, Kela and Kwandi.
Meanwhile, Loma, Leya and her cubs remained watching Zulu as he continued to feed. Finally, the L family got their reward as Zulu hefted his now quite considerable form into an upright position and began to move away. As the five patient lions raced in to feed on the leftovers the commotion alerted the RS and K sub-group who had only moved a few hundred metres away. As Zulu continued to saunter away, he was stopped in his tracks as first Kela, then Kwandi, followed by Rusha, RS3, RS1 and finally RS2 raced past him to try and get whatever they could. Stuffed to – if not beyond – capacity, Zulu waddled to the closest patch of shade, and collapsed, leaving the others to squabble over the rest.
Clearly feeling the need to feed again having been mostly denied, we discovered the pride in Grand Canyon on the morning of the 4th just at the end of a (failed) hunt on a herd of impala. The pride was scattered around the deepest crevice of the riverbed with pairs and sub-groups dotted on the edges, or, in the case of the RSs, chasing one another into the bed itself. For a brief few minutes the pride came together into one group on the Southern edge of the riverbed before heading into some thickets and, for several moments, out of sight. By the time we’d found a way round to the other side of the thickets without falling into the river bed, we could only locate Zulu and RS2, sat to the side of the main road. After a pretty impressive, but not-quite-there yet, attempt at a roar RS2 headed West along the road and was soon being trailed by his father. On reaching the junction of Sibaka and Kariba, father and son joined Rusha, Loma, Kwandi, RS1 and RS3. After several minutes of separation the RS girls of course launched themselves at their brother, biting his legs and displaying other gestures of affection.
Several more minutes passed and, as the group settled in Kariba, Leya joined them and finally aunt Number 1, Kela led the LE cubs to complete the group. After so much action, and so many changes in grouping to record in such a short space of time, for once it was actually a relief when the lions then headed into the boundary treeline and, to all intents and purposes out of sight, bringing research to a close for the day.
The next few days were a combination of rest, intense rest and unconsciousness, with very little to note before the morning of the 9th brought some renewed activity. Once more it was Loma who we located first; alone once more in Sibaka (this is a favoured spot of the impala, and the fragmented groupings suggest we’re catching them at the end of hunting efforts). Within seconds of our arrival we could hear lions roaring to the East of Loma’s location and instantly she was up on her feet and marching in that direction. Soon enough she met up with her sister, Leya, and the rest of the female and cub contingent of the pride, but as they moved off Loma sat back down and merely watched as they all filed past.
It wasn’t long before we heard the unmistakable roar of Zulu coming from the North, and over the next few minutes we heard him roar three more times as Loma calmly observed her surroundings, before finally getting to her feet and breaking into a full roar herself; clouds billowing from her mouth as she did so in the cold winter air.
Despite signalling her location to Zulu, she began to move off East after her sisters, weaving through Sibaka until reaching the boundary road where she was summarily ambushed by Kela. The pair stalked and chased one another down the road before entering the Chobe area of the site. As they began to cross the area we chose to drive around it to avoid some pretty nasty potholes – whereupon we came across not Kela and Loma, but Kwandi and Rusha resting on the opposite side of the area and close to the main road. Hearing the calls of others they stood and made their way towards the centre of Chobe and we were left with no choice but to tip-toe around pot-holes and tree stumps. Finally, after several minutes, we discovered all 12 lions had come to rest in the middle of the Chobe area. Reunited and content, the remainder of the morning passed with the rumbling of Zulu’s mighty snores.