There was a fairly long and unplanned hiatus from the Dambwa release site over January with the need to replace several key pieces of monitoring equipment, including the telemetry receiver used for tracking the lions. After a number of frustrating weeks, we were finally able to restart monitoring the pride on the morning of the 31st January.
In our absence, the annual rains had of course resulted in the grass engulfing the site, which definitely poses significant challenges when looking for lions. After a comprehensive search of the site (and much slapping in the face by the over-enthusiastic vegetation), the lions were discovered in Chisamu, deep in a network of bushes. Data and observations in general were slim pickings that morning – except for RS3, who never misses a chance to eyeball the strange rumbling monstrosity that is the research vehicle. But once she’d established that our month-long absence was over, even she slunk more or less out of sight for the remainder of the morning.
The following day everyone had shifted to Puku Dambo. Even though they were no longer in the bushes, the tall grass made it just as difficult to ID individuals and discern exactly what was going on when they did interact. One individual who is of course impossible to miss is Zulu – and he was in fine grumpy form that morning, primarily taking his ire out on his offspring. RS2 caught the first ‘back-hander’ of the day as he wove his way through the area in search of better shade. It seems that the lions may have as much trouble spotting one another in the tall grass as we have spotting them, as the young male literally tripped over his sleeping father and Kwandi. This small blunder on RS2’s part seemed to act as the catalyst of a fairly epic tantrum on Zulu’s behalf.
Launching to his feet, he chased and lunged at the young male who of course sprinted out of the way. Mother Rusha suddenly appeared out of the grass and headed to Zulu apparently in an effort to placate him, greeting RS2 reassuringly on the way. But this wasn’t good enough for Zulu, who then pounced on top of LE2 giving her several rough slaps. The young female was luckily (although probably unintentionally) saved by older sister RS3, who was creeping around the back of our vehicle heading to the rest of the pride- apparently trying to use us as cover from her father. But she was spotted and he raced after her before diverting his attention back to RS2. After a rather hectic few minutes, calm finally returned to the group. Seeking out his mother, RS2 kept a watchful eye on Zulu for the remainder of the morning – from a safe distance.
The 7th February found Leya with two of her cubs, LE2 and LE3, on the remains of a scavenge that had been placed in the site a few days earlier. Scavenges are always placed in an area of the site in which the lions are not, but are usually found within 24 hours. However, on this occasion the pride had not found the offering for three days; as the grass was so tall now that the carcasses had remained hidden from sight, even from that of the scavengers such as vultures whose presence often alerts the lions to a potential opportunity. After finishing off every last morsel available, it was young female LE2 who galvanised mum and brother into seeking out the rest of the pride with a rather impressive few mini-roars before leading the move. The rather hearty vocalisation from the young lady was quite a surprise- as she is slightly small for her age, which makes her still look quite cub-like. Little or not, she led Leya and her brother a couple of hundred metres to a much favoured thicket of the pride’s; and reunited with LE1 who was being keenly watched over predominantly Kela and Kwandi and surrounded by the rest of the pride.