March 2022

Habituating the Nduna pride

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Habituating the Nduna pride

Jenny Hishin
By Jenny Hishin
Guest Guide

Our dedicated lion scouts have spent most of this month furthering the habituation of the Nduna pride. This involves trying to find their tracks in the morning, then often tracking them on foot through thick bushveld, and if they find them then spending time in a vehicle a comfortable distance away until the lions get used to their presence.

This then allows for quality safari viewing because lions, by nature, are actually quite scared of the human form – during the day that is. At night it is a different story completely.

When this photo was taken I was on foot with the lion scouts, and you can see they are quite interested in us, even though we were quite far away. Even so, they decided shortly after this to slink away into denser undergrowth.

The Nduna pride have been quite difficult to habituate because much of their territory is over the high, inaccessible rocky areas of Nduna and Lojaan Dams. They enjoy lying on top of large rocks to sunbathe and survey their land, and retire into the cool gullies and thick vegetation when its too hot. They have used this rocky terrain to their hunting advantage too. South of Lojaan Dam is a rock system channel that is wide on one end and narrow at the other closest to the water. Buffalo making their way to the water gather in a bottleneck at the narrow end and the lions use this to stage an ambush, sometimes killing more than one buffalo in the ensuing chaos.

It is similar on the eastern side of Nduna Dam too – another rocky section forces buffalo to go through a narrow gorge at only one or two at a time, when the herds are often over 500 strong.

Again the lions have learnt to trigger this trap and spring out from behind these rocks, leaping onto the buffaloes.

The Nduna pride males, two scarred old males who have been around the block several times, are far more relaxed in the presence of humans in vehicles. In fact just before I took this photo they had been lying flat out in the grass, and were actually snoring.

The sound of the vehicle did not even cause them to flick an ear never mind interrupt their noisy nap. It was only when they heard the sound of what possibly could have been another lion did they look up with interest.

When this photo was taken I was on foot with the lion scouts, and you can see they are quite interested in us, even though we were quite far away. Even so, they decided shortly after this to slink away into denser undergrowth.

The Nduna pride have been quite difficult to habituate because much of their territory is over the high, inaccessible rocky areas of Nduna and Lojaan Dams. They enjoy lying on top of large rocks to sunbathe and survey their land, and retire into the cool gullies and thick vegetation when its too hot. They have used this rocky terrain to their hunting advantage too. South of Lojaan Dam is a rock system channel that is wide on one end and narrow at the other closest to the water. Buffalo making their way to the water gather in a bottleneck at the narrow end and the lions use this to stage an ambush, sometimes killing more than one buffalo in the ensuing chaos. It is similar on the eastern side of Nduna Dam too – another rocky section forces buffalo to go through a narrow gorge at only one or two at a time, when the herds are often over 500 strong. Again the lions have learnt to trigger this trap and spring out from behind these rocks, leaping onto the buffaloes.

The Nduna pride males, two scarred old males who have been around the block several times, are far more relaxed in the presence of humans in vehicles. In fact just before I took this photo they had been lying flat out in the grass, and were actually snoring. The sound of the vehicle did not even cause them to flick an ear never mind interrupt their noisy nap. It was only when they heard the sound of what possibly could have been another lion did they look up with interest.

With a face full of street-cred scars I could check who he was against our ID database and confirm that he was the Nduna pride male 002. The database was compiled during the Covid pandemic, and since then I see he has lost a chunk out of his left ear giving it a ragged edge.

These IDs help us gain an understanding of pride dynamics, as well as the individual animals. These two males are an uncompromising coalition, having earned their place as territorial males the hard way. The day before this photo they were with the Nduna lionesses and cubs and devoured a buffalo calf without letting the lionesses feed. The cubs and sub-adults had tried to get a share but the males spent the whole time growling ferociously and keeping them at bay. We couldn’t see the males or the kill, but you could hear their growling and fighting from a great distance away as their reprimanding roars reverberated off the rocks.