The morning of the 15th October was cool, breezy and overcast – and after weeks of temperatures climbing towards - and over - 40oC it was a welcome respite from the oppressiveness of the last month. We could see that this year's first rain (albeit a very light shower) had moved through the area no more than an hour before we arrived and this lightening of the atmosphere served to propel most of the lions into some sort of action.
The day’s first discovery was that Kela appears to have shifted her den site, which she will do from time to time over the coming weeks, and this is where she remained for the course of the day. However she was joined by sister Kwandi and Temi, who had originally started out with the rest of pride in Kariba, but after some excessive fussing from the cubs Kwandi decided a trip to check in with Kela was in order.
Loma (front) and Leya... to follow, or not to follow?
Initially, Leya, Loma and Zulu followed her but only went about 30 or 40m before stopping and monitoring her progress from a seated position. After a couple of minutes Temi decided to follow suit and high-tailed it after Kwandi and spent the rest of the morning with her, in or close to Kela’s den. Whilst Kela’s litter is only two-to-three weeks old at this point, and therefore still very vulnerable, lionesses will make little effort to keep other members of the pride away from new-born young, and other lions will readily enter thickets in which small cubs are hidden (Schaller, 1972).
Zulu’s work apparently is not done yet, however. With his cubs with Rusha thriving, Kela denning and Kwandi likely to give birth in the very near future too, after Kwandi and Temi’s exit from the group he then mated twice with Leya. We’d first seen the couple mating at the end of September, but by the 2nd October all mating had ceased between the pair. Last week however, we noted that Zulu appeared to be covering Leya once more – and now it seems she is once more entering oestrous.
Zulu & Leya
With that little interlude over, Loma moved East and was swiftly followed by Leya – and of course Zulu. They ended up coming to rest for the remainder of the day between the the pride’s original location (where Rusha and her cubs were still resting) and Kela, Kwandi and Temi’s suspected location.
(L-R) RS1, RS3 and RS2 rest alongside Rusha for the day
After leaving the pride in so many scattered groups the previous day it was a nice surprise to find all 10 back together again (including Kela) on the borders of Kariba and Puku Dambo. The RS cubs were in grumbly form as Rusha denied them access to milk, after trying from a number of other members of the pride they had to entertain themselves somehow – and RS1 in particular did; first giving a shrub what-for, then giving Rusha a few stealthy bites to the neck and finally zeroing in on Zulu for a slap on the bum.
RS1 and Zulu
But all her hi-jinks were being ignored by her elders as one by one they all orbited to the other side of the bush they had been resting under and the seven adults became transfixed with something from the South West. With all eyes staring intently and noses sniffing the air the adults made off towards the southern boundary.
Something in the South...?
The cubs monitored their progress, and after some time followed about 20m but in the end diverted their course into another thick bush and took cover nearby. The source of the adults’ interest was never discovered as they marched straight for the boundary treeline and disappeared within for the rest of the afternoon.
The following morning they were on the edge of the treeline, and the cubs had joined them – or more likely been collected. After another round of grumbling from RS3 that Rusha had closed the bar, and some bouts of play mainly from RS1, the pride seemed to be settling for the day.
Then, a little before 08:30am a noisy line of guinea fowl came waddling along the treeline. Judging by the racket they were making they had no idea the lions were there, but they’re squawking had certainly alerted Rusha, Loma and RS3. As the 25-or-so bird continued to waddle closer Leya and Kwandi were woken too, and immediately flattened themselves low to the ground. At 10m away the birds stopped – finally alert to the lions – and Leya raced at them. But even after an impressive leap to try and catch one as they flew off she returned to earth empty-handed.
Leya notices the birds...
...and races after them!