Earlier this week on the 5th it was business as usual as the pride rested the morning away in one of their favourite areas of the site; Kariba. Looking plump, healthy and content they alternately basked in the sun and sought shade throughout the morning. Of course the one thing that can rouse the Dambwa pride perhaps like nothing else is their feathered friends.
Kela, Leya, Kwandi, Zulu
As mid-morning approached they all slipped into a deep sleep. Usually as vultures gather over the site, Zulu will hear them and fix his beady gaze on them until confirmed they haven’t found something the pride (or more importantly, he) has missed. But such was the depth of their slumber this morning that no one woke for several minutes as six hooded vultures rode the thermals directly over the pride. But once they did… it wasn’t just Zulu who perked up but also Loma, then Kela and almost simultaneously Leya and Kwandi become alert to their presence. Ten eyes as big as saucers trained themselves on the scavengers - but it was entirely the wrong time of day for bird watching and after several minutes, the wide eyes got a little heavier and a little sleepier, until…
On the afternoon of the 8th the vulture theme continued – but this time it was they who were watching the lions.
Initially the pride was just to the west of the Waterpan 1, completely uninterested in consciousness. So we decided instead to carry out such tasks as game counts and water pan checking in the hope that later in the afternoon, once it was a little cooler, we might see some signs of life. Only a few minutes after leaving the lions we noticed a herd of half a dozen or so impala making their way along the Sanga boundary. Not thinking anything of it (the lions wouldn’t have noticed if a bomb had of gone off next to them and the impala were still some distance away) we naively trundled off into the site to carry out these other tasks. Having circuited the site, we stopped at Pan 2 to check water levels before heading towards 3 and 1. As we neared pan 3 there was a large gathering of hooded vultures and an assortment of eagles approximately 60-80m south of the pan. Making a beeline for the spot anticipating the remains of a recent kill perhaps made overnight, Zulu suddenly came into view.
He seemed agitated and breathless and interested in something on the ground. We couldn’t see well on account of the grass still being quite tall in this area of the site and the shrubs he was surrounded by. We watched as he frantically chased the dive-bombing vultures back and forth, before lunging at the ground and re-emerging with a freshly killed impala clamped between his jaws and dragged it into deeper cover.
Zulu drag sthe carcass away
The traditionally held view of lion predation is that lionesses do most of the hunting. Adult males tend to refrain from hunting and pursue prey less often than females do (obtaining the majority of their food by parasitizing lionesses’ kills or scavenging from kills made by other predators) except when the pride is hunting large prey, such as buffalo.
But there’s always the exception to the rule. We know Zulu’s got hunting form; having made several kills before his retirement from walking at 18 months (albeit on smaller prey items such as monitor lizards, monkeys and tortoise), then making the first kill in Zambia on a Night Encounter of a puku when the release site was used for this purpose and subsequently assisting in several other successful hunts in this setting. His most recent known kill was an adult waterbuck on the day of his release; but given Friday’s efforts it’s likely he’s just as responsible as the females for the depletion of game in the site.
Repositioning the vehicle closer to the kill site we heard him tearing and crunching away. What we also began to hear from the telemetry was that the females were approaching, and approaching fast. Minutes after Zulu had vanished into the grass, the girls came racing along at a fair old clip towards pan 3. They’d clearly heard the kill and knew exactly what was going and were no doubt looking for a bit of payback for all the times they’ve supported Zulu. Coming to a halt about 20 meters from the kill site, it was Kela who first picked on the scent and the six descended on the spot. Once more it was Kela and Rusha who first detected the grinding of teeth on bone coming from the grass and six finely-tuned rockets flew into the grass and honed in on Zulu.
The females arrive at the kill site
As one may imagine an almighty ruckus took place, and we could make out several forms in the grass scattering in different directions with bits and pieces of the carcass. The now several layers of crunching and continued huffing and growling confirmed everyone had at least got a little something for Zulu’s efforts.
Approximately 20 minutes later we saw Zulu making his way back West, as we’ve often seen him do around kills with his nose to the ground. We attempted to follow; perhaps having had to share he was off to try his luck again? But we swiftly lost him in the grass. Hoping to get a proper view of the girls (we’d really only seen them for a split second all afternoon) we returned to the feeding site and continued to listen to the bone crunching, when all of a sudden Zulu came marching through the grass and past our vehicle and went straight to pan 3 for a drink. At times Zulu can be a rather odd lion and as he drank we could hear him vocalising (to himself? To the girls? To the dead impala?? Who knows?) at the same time. Sated, he continued his inspection of the immediate area to doubly make sure nothing had been missed and as we left for the day he was still marching around in circles with his nose to the floor.