In the past couple of months the lions here at Karongwe have started exploring the entirety of the reserve. We have a single pride here that consists of two adult females, their four cubs (two males and two females) and the big male. The cubs are about a year and a half old and have entered the awkward teenage stage where they are clumsy and curious. Now that they are big enough it seems the adults have decided it is time they started learning about every part of the reserve. This means that the lions have gone from staying in one general area to traveling all over, sometimes traveling a large distance simply overnight. This means that we sometimes have trouble tracking the lions as they can travel long distances in a very short amount of time.
We try to locate them every morning and every afternoon to collect research data on their spatial utilization and on the kills that they make, sometimes we are successful and other times we are not. During my first month at Karongwe we were having some difficulty locating them. Our base manager, Rosie, eventually managed to track them down in the north, where the cubs were playing with a porcupine as the adults watched. But by the time we found them it was late and a storm was rolling in so after a while watching this interesting behaviour we had to head back to camp. The next morning it was still raining but a couple of us brave volunteers went out in the rain and made the long drive up to the north to try to relocate the lions. What we thought would be an easy find turned into a marathon tracking session that ended with a missing pride of lions. We returned to base tired, damp and cold with the hope that we would have better success the next day.
When we went out the next morning we took two different teams and went in opposite directions, looking for any sign of the lions. Shortly after we left base we got a call from the other team that they believed the lions to be on a road called Rhino Walk. We told them to go ahead and follow up but we then received another call saying that they had gotten their truck stuck in the mud that had developed after all the rain, and needed us to go find the lions while they tried to get the vehicle unstuck. We went and found the lions sleeping in the road not very far from base. They had moved very far south from where they had been just 48 hours before, which was why we had so much trouble finding them. We watched as the cubs jumped on their dad and tried to climb trees. Let’s just say the cubs had a lot to learn as they constantly fell out of the tree and onto their faces. Mom had no such problem and demonstrated for us by jumping up and out of a tree several times. It was a comical affair but after a while we decided to go and help the other truck get out of their predicament.
We went to their aid and spent the next hour trying to figure out how to get the vehicle unstuck. We set to work but paused when we got a radio call informing us that the lions were mobile and walking towards us. There is no better motivator than the thought of big curious lions walking towards you and so we worked even faster to get the truck unstuck, with the people who were still with the lions giving us constant updates on how close they were getting. The truck finally came free and we all jumped on the trucks just in the nick of time, as we sat down in our seats and turned around to see the lions rounding the corner. The cubs looked quite confused by our actions and paused to ponder over the situation before carrying on with their usual behaviour of completely ignoring us. Just another adventure on Karongwe where you are not sure whether you are scared, excited or amused!
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