Wildlife: Lions and Dogs

25th April 2016

I must say it's a relief! Much as I value the rains as a time of regeneration (and for great birding opportunities) a day comes when the air is drier, and the breeze is fresh, and I celebrate! Not only am I happy to be able to move around without permanent perspiration, but it's a very exciting time of year - the promise of a new safari season.

The wildlife seems to feel it too, beginning to adjust their daily activities to accommodate the cooler days and greater opportunities for activity; impalas are beginning to rut, snorting their pleasure at the new season, and sparring elephants 'clack' their tusks together giving that unmistakable sound. 2016 is a more exciting safari season than most as I begin my new business. I am sure that Luangwa will continue to astonish me with new marvels and share its treasures with 2016's visitors. Here's to the promise of a new season.

Almost before it has begun, the new season has thrown some exciting things at us! I was out with my family on Saturday evening, and we found a small pride of 7 lions, including a young male who was showing considerable interest in one of the young females.

As soon as the young female got up from her afternoon slumbers, the male jumped to his feet and followed her.

When she paused to urinate, he sniffed around and took a deep breath to assess her readiness to mate.

Giving only a minor flehmen response (scrunching up the nose to pass the inhaled air across a very sensitive gland in the roof of the nasal passage) he settled down again, suggesting she is a little way away from mating time.

The most interesting part of this encounter was how young the female is - probably around 18 months old - and how young the male looks. During the rains, we aren't able to follow lions' movements very regularly so at the beginning of the new season, when they start to approach the river once more, we sometimes find some surprises. New males, new cubs, the disappearance of old females.... So it takes a little time to work out who is going to join prides with whom and whether it will last.

It could be that this male is simply one of the pride and has matured during the rains. Now that he's more mature, he is starting to show interest in the receptiveness of the females in his pride, even if he is not in a position to mate with them!

Or he might be a young male from a different area who has come in to take over that pride. From the distance that we were, and with only a relatively brief sighting of him, I couldn't say for sure. I will follow up with the carnivore research teams and update this blog later!

The following day we headed in the opposite direction and enjoyed elephants, giraffes and endless birds. Just as we were looking for somewhere for my daughter to get out and run around (she's 2 and needs regular breaks!) I spotted white tails flicking in the grass and knew we'd found Wild Dogs!

Initially, they only lay around and flicked flies with their tails. But soon enough, they got up and began to greet each other and displayed 15 minutes of fantastic pack-animal behaviour.

After lots of afternoon sleep, the yearlings were first to rise, yawning and showing off formidable teeth!

One yearling's submissive mouth-licking behaviour is reminiscent of pups who beg for regurgitated food from adults returning to the den.

As more of the pups rose from resting, they mobbed the adults in a fever of greetings and pack reaffirmation behaviour.

With the promise of a new season freshly in our minds, and these two sightings as a starting point, we have high hopes for 2016!

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