Zulu began his journey as a nervous cub that was, as some would say, afraid of his own shadow. It may have been difficult then to picture this little ball of fur as the mighty leader of the Dambwa release pride.
Zulu took a while to find his feet in Stage One of the Rehabilitation & Release into the Wild Programme. Essentially, it was only through the reassurance of his walking partners, future pride mate Leya and her half-brother Toka, that Zulu found the confidence to undertake his daily walks in the Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park where he got to learn so much about what it would mean to lead his own pride. Perseverance paid off and at the age of three-and-a-half years old, Zulu was ready to take the helm as the Dambwa pride male in December 2011.
Today, Zulu’s role primarily involves sleeping, eating and throwing his weight around as well as a bit of scent marking and roaring thrown in for good measure, and of course, to make sure his ownership of the territory is known by all. His early nervousness is still somewhat evident however, especially in the form of non-wild elements - our research vehicle being an example. This is something we always have to be aware of around Zulu, ensuring that we always keep a respectful distance.
Zulu is, of course, very popular with all of the females in the release pride; however, there is one lady in particular that the aloof pride male can’t quite hide his affection for - Rusha.
Rusha and Zulu's association goes back a long way, having shown preference for one another’s company well before their release into stage two. While males tend to initiate fewer social interactions than their female counterparts (which is also true of Zulu), Rusha receives the lion’s share of the few interactions he does initiate. She’s also allowed to get away with giving him a bit of sass from time to time; not an honour bestowed to many.
After all of this courting by Zulu, it seemed fitting that Rusha would give Zulu his first litter of cubs, two females, RS1 and RS3, and one male, RS2, who were born in June 2013. The trio made their first public appearance when they were around 5 weeks old, when Zulu once more showed his fear of the unknown and took off down the road at a considerable pace as RS3 led the charging gaggle of excited cubs who were desperate to get their paws on dad. Having recovered his nerves after these early meet-and-greets, Zulu proved himself to be, quite unexpectedly, a patient and doting father, allowing his cubs to use him as their primary play toy even if that meant having his mane endlessly pulled and countless claws in the eyes.
It’s a good thing that fatherhood suited Zulu so well, as his next litter of cubs weren’t too far behind when Leya denned at the end of January 2014. The desperate dad was clearly keen to meet his new cubs this time, and spent several days patrolling the area around Leya’s den, frequently calling to her. Evening up the numbers, Leya gave Zulu a further two sons, LE1 and LE3, and one more daughter, LE2. He’s proved to be just as gentle with the LE cubs as he was with the RSs; and has on more than one occasion been observed chasing the rest of the pride away from food so that his youngest can feed first.
Now, his cubs are growing up fast (the RS cubs are 22-months old and the LE cubs almost 15-months) and playtime is over. It’s here that the real work begins for Zulu, as it is now his duty to turn the three little boys into a male coalition fit for release into the wild.
Zulu has made incredible progress over the last few years and we are excited as we watch him and the rest of the Dambwa pride continue to thrive. In order to ensure the pride’s progression, we need your support. Sponsor Zulu as he continues his journey in the release site. As a sponsor, you will receive:
- A copy of Panthera leo: a species account by email detailing a wealth of facts about lions;
- Online access to your sponsors portal;
- Exclusive updates and pictures of your chosen lion;
- Priority booking to any ALERT events;
- The knowledge that you are part of the on-going solution.
Sponsor Zulu today and be part of the on-going solution to conserve the African lion.
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