Climate and Landscape
We know we have hit our summer months when temperatures soar into the upper 30 and low 40 degrees Celsius! All wildlife and their human counterparts are wilting in the heat, counting down the days for the first rains to cool everything down. One day actually reached a sweltering 52° C; the lowest temperature this month dropped to 12° C. This year saw early rains with two days of rain on the 8th and a few showers on the 9th. We received around 10 mm rain on the first evening and about 2 mm on the second day during the morning.
The scenery too has changed quite considerably; most flora changed from sandy shades into lush greens. We noticed leaves and flowers appearing late in September and more within the first week of October, which goes to show nature knows exactly when to expect the rains. The Busanga Plains have sprung to life!
There is only one way we can explain the type of month we witnessed with regards to wildlife and that is October was real! An absolute cracker of a month in terms of wildlife sightings and in particular, lion activity, October offered some of the best wildlife sightings of the big cats, as well as elephant, buffalo and roan, seen in very large numbers; the herd of buffalo had a count of over 700! We also saw leopard – including on a kill – and cheetah, as well as six hyaena on the plains.
We had activity in droves from our resident lions. In fact, we can safely say that not a day passed without seeing them on a kill this month: hippo, buffalo, lechwe, puku and zebra, to name a few.
One of the many lion highlights of the month was seeing Maggie, the Papyrus female, with two new-born cubs. This was a surprise to us as we had not witnessed her mating and only noticed the pregnancy late in September (Maggie lost her first cub in July this year). The question still remains unanswered as to who the father of these cubs could be.
The first sighting of these cubs happened on the 4th October – Newton heard the cubs calling in a beautiful area directly in front of Shumba, across the channel which has been dry enough to drive to this month. The tiny cubs were hidden and very well protected inside a termite mound. Our guests had a superb sighting and lots of pictures were taken as Maggie decided to move her cubs from one hiding place and relocate them so that the nomadic male could not locate them and possibly kill them if found.
On the evening of the 20th of October, one of our repeat guests to Shumba, Eva, was enjoying her first evening in camp, having arrived late in the afternoon. She decided to watch the sunset from the comfort of her sunken deck when she heard the rustling of grass just in front of her room. She spotted a lioness passing close beneath her and she jumped up, startling the lioness which quickly disappeared in the direction of Tent 5. Eva had enquired about the Busanga Pride of lions, known for climbing onto the guest tent decks to enjoy the views and breeze! Ondyne, the camp manager, explained that unfortunately the Busanga Pride had not been seen since 2014, with the last sighting of Mr Busanga in early 2015.
The next morning our housekeepers came rushing through to the main area, to ask the guides to please wake up guests in Tents 4, 5 and 6 since they had spotted lions under the walkway leading from the office to these guest rooms. We soon discovered that there had been a lechwe kill under the walkway. As sunrise dawned, we noticed it was Killing Machine and her cubs, and Queen’s one cub. From a distance when we had more light to see, we also noticed Machine’s two older boys waiting to feed. They eventually advanced and pushed Machine and her cubs away with lots of growling and charging, which finally saw Machine surrender her kill to them.
Isaac had been watching the action with his guests and they decided to leave the males feeding and follow Machine and her cubs. All the while Isaac was wondering where Queen was. As they followed the lioness and her cubs. They quite unexpectedly came across a very young lechwe which had been hidden, lying down in the grass. Machine instantly took advantage of this and pushed the cubs to hunt it down. It was fascinating to watch the cubs learning to hunt without much experience behind them yet. Each time the cubs missed the young lechwe, Machine would go and knock the lechwe down with a tap of her big front paw and then the cubs would climb back into the action. A radio call from camp prompted Isaac and his two guests to come back into camp to see that one of the males had climbed up onto the deck at Tent 5 and was seen to be enjoying the view from there!
Later, a call from the Zambian Carnivore Programme (ZCP) informed us that they had spotted Queen mating with one of the nomadic lions seen early this season, which the guides have named Beast. Our guides rushed to the last location where they had been sighted and managed to locate them. The mating between Queen and Beast puzzled Isaac since he wondered if Queen had abandoned her cub, since she would not normally come into oestrus whilst with a young cub. Isaac thought that this could be what he had only ever heard about, but never witnessed, which was a pseudo-oestrus, otherwise also known as a false oestrus, in order to save the existing cubs and in turn make Beast happy.
We have noticed that Beast has been alone for the past two months now and we have not seen his coalition partner (Blonde) since the first week in September when he was seen with many porcupine quills sticking out of his face and front paws. What happened to him, no one knows. We are not sure if the quills could have caused his death, but they may have become infected and prevented him from hunting or feeding.
Paradise, an area south of Shumba Camp about a 30-minute drive away, is so named for all the beautiful flora and fauna usually found there this time of year, and was where Isaac had taken a drive on a late afternoon. He noticed vultures next to the river. What had they seen? None other than Shy (the Papyrus Pride’s dominant male) and Beast, together on a zebra kill. Shy has been on the run from Beast and his original coalition partner, Blonde, for this entire season. Seeing Beast alone, Shy stood his ground. A few fights erupted whilst the guests and Isaac watched as they each tried to feed and take control of the kill. It was not clear which lion had actually made the kill. The question arose as to whether the two boys would become coalition partners. Early the next morning the guides set off straight away to see what had happened during the night. They found the lions feeding harmoniously, side by side. Once the kill was finished, both predators walked away in the opposite direction to the other, with what seemed to be sad looks on their faces. They stopped and stared at each other at one point, as if to say “Why do we have to separate?”
On the morning of the 29th, a lion walked past Shumba. We decided to follow and found it was Machine, roaring loudly and seeming to be looking for a potential lion to mate with. We followed her until she got to where Princess, the two boys and Queen were on a kill. Machine straight away took over the kill. After her meal, she pushed one of the males from her first litter to mate with her. But he had no experience. Later in the afternoon, she abandoned the boys. On the morning of the 30th we found her mating with Beast. Looks like Beast has found love!
The story continued on the 2nd, when we were informed by our delivery truck drivers that they had spotted three lions together – with two of them mating. Ondyne and some of the Shumba staff set off later that afternoon and found that it was Beast and he was seen to be mating with what turned out to be both Machine and Princess. Busy guy!
This is a story which we would love to continue to follow but sadly, with our last guests having departed on the 1st of November, we are now packing up camp and will be leaving by 10th November. So we will be keen to pick up the trail of what transpires from November through May.
To get into camp at the beginning of the season requires lots of energy, laughter and being prepared to be covered in mud by the time we arrive! It is a full day’s journey to get into camp (around 80 kilometres). We normally set off at around 6 am and get into camp late in the evening. Once we arrive in camp, we begin the process of scrubbing, cleaning, varnishing, painting and repairing the camp, to be ready for our first guests in June. We can then pick up the story of our lions again and see what has happened over the ‘green season’ (so called due to the amount of rains we receive during this time).
Birds and Birding
There are still quite a few water birds around, even as the water dries up. A few of the new visiting birds seen this month included pelicans, lesser grey-backed shrikes, barn swallows and the rarely-sighted blue-breasted bee-eater.
“Fantastic ending for our first trip to Zambia. Amazing wildlife shown to us by lovely and passionate people. Shumba is an island in the Garden of Eden. Thank you for this unforgettable experience.”
“Had an amazing time at Shumba, wildlife, scenery and you guys make this place and amazing place, Thank you all.”
Wonderful wildlife. Hundreds of elephants and the lions followed us at night while we were in our tents. Thrilling.”
“A brilliant stay. Enjoyed in particular all the individual experiences created by the dedicated staff. “
Staff in Camp
Ondyne Dobeyn – Camp Manager
Mwamba Lombe – Assistant Manager
Mutale Yumbe and Mirah Nankonde – Trainee Managers
Isaac Kalio – Head Guide
Newton Mulenga and Golden Kalindawalo – Guides