Unlike the thrice-daily Ngamo research sessions at Antelope Park, while we were at Lion Encounter research sessions inside the Dambwa Stage Two release site consisted of two morning sessions that took place only once a week. So it wasn’t until our final week at LE that we were (happily) given the chance to see and study Zulu and the Dambwa Pride up close. With a packed breakfast courtesy the kitchen staff at LE, Kim and I headed out to the release site with ALERT researcher Jacqui, fellow vol Georgia, a driver, and Kennedy – one of the lion handlers.
There is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow man; true nobility is being superior to your former self.
The first session consisted on taking data on what a selected pride member was doing every two minutes over the course of an hour. Georgia was the time keeper, and every 120 seconds Kim jotted down the observational notes Jacqui called out. For the most part during the first session the pride was subdued; their stomachs bulging from a recent scavenger kill they’d feasted on, as the release site had yet to be restocked with live prey species for them to hunt and hone their skills with as proper lions. For many reasons (including the aforementioned lack of prey species) it’s hard to compare the Dambwa gang to their compatriots in Ngamo, especially given that we only had an hour in the site to observe and take data on them. But the one noticeable lion who stood out was Zulu. While not looking particularly out of place, he certainly seemed as if he had yet to fully comprehend who he was and what was expected of him. He still has a mane to grow into, both figuratively and literally, and he’s still young – as are all of the Dambwa Pride. It will be some time before Zulu will come close to matching the swagger and fierce looks of his cousin, Milo. Still, a king is a king, and we were deeply honored for being allowed the time to pay him tribute. All hail Zulu! All hail the King!
In-between sessions we enjoyed our breakfast a few kilometers down the road at a spot that had previously been, we were told, used for night encounters, but wasn’t any longer. It’s also the place where, during our first week at Lion Encounter, we helped water trees that had been recently planted in conjunction with Greenpop as part of a project to reforest an area that’s been devastated by illegal charcoal production. While Kim and Georgia dined on cereal and lukewarm eggs, I interviewed Jacqui for the profiles project. Afterwards, it was decided that the second session would be spent refilling one of the water pans in the release site, as the generator that pumped water to it was broken and the pan was rapidly drying up. So we spent the second session trucking a 200 liter barrel of water back and forth between the release site and a nearby farm whose well we used.
We’d fill up the barrel and drive back to Dambwa, have Jacqui jump out of the truck to open the first gate, drive another kilometer or so to the inner gate nearest the empty water pan, have Jacqui jump out and open that gate, drive through, shut off the engine, check the radio collar receiver for any signals of nearby lions, start the truck back up, drive to the pan, fill it up, turn around and head back to the gates, have Jacqui jump out once more (actually, twice more), and drive back down the road to the farm to fill up the tank and repeat it all over again. Four times in total. While we’d rather have been enjoying the company of the Dambwa lions and were saddened to only get an hour total spent with this remarkable group, we were by no means complaining. Doing something that directly contributed to the pride’s well-being, even if it was an emergency side trip to fill up one of the release site’s water pans, was a pleasure we were happy to dirty our hands with. I know… we’re a bit weird that way!