Athena: an ugly duckling story…

23 02 2011

Athena is Ashanti’s sister (the Ngamo pride’s alpha female), being born at Antelope Park on 8th November 2004 to parents Anna and Teddy.  As a young cub Athena was a bear of a cub with thick set shoulders and bandy legs.

She was much quieter, and less obviously pretty than her more exuberant sisters and tended to be sidelined by her larger brothers.  She was often the one at the back of the group that you barely noticed.  But Athena was simply waiting, and watching for her moment.

When this picture was taken by then project manager Nicola Brown everyone saw Athena in a new light; a statuesque female of perfect proportions.

Athena’s first kill came in November 2005 when she caught a monitor lizard.  Soon after she began a campaign against impala, and was involved in a number of successful hunts with Kwali and Kenge on a variety of species.

In March 2008 Athena moved with Nala & Narnia to the Dollar Block release site and was reunited with Ashanti, Kenge and Phyre for a release in the April.  Nala & Narnia clearly saw Athena as their pride leader, following her around and wanting to play with her.  Athena however, being a bit of a loner, seemed almost uncomfortable with this admiration, but was given little choice by her smaller shadows.  Sometimes she would manage to shake the pesky duo and would be found on her own, away from any of the other lions, with her own kill which she jealously guarded. 

Being of equal age and size to Ashanti the big question was how the pair would work together when all six were released.  Kenge and Phyre were clearly allied to Ashanti, and with Nala & Narnia allied to Athena, we undertook a study to see how the sisters would settle the question of who was alpha female.

After a few days spent together after release Athena would lead her fans away, exploring their home and making their own kills.  Had Athena caused a pride split?  A few weeks later it became clear that the newest trio in the site were simply finding their feet and getting to know their territory, something that Ashanti’s gang had already had months to do.  After a few weeks post release Athena would more often than not be found with Ashanti until all six were together more often than apart.  But the question still remained as to who was top cat.

One way of determining this is to look at which lions initiate social interactions towards others (greetings are usually from a lower female to a more dominant one) and whether any signs of submission are shown.  Kenge clearly favoured Ashanti, but after some 14 weeks together warmed to Athena slightly.  Phyre was interested in Athena from the start, but would greet her one week and then ignore her the next.  Nala & Narnia remained faithful, but much less so over time.

But what of the direct relationship between the sisters?  One misty morning the two met, having been apart for some days.  They approached each other, and as they got close it was Athena that lowered her head and Ashanti accepted the greeting as the pride alpha female.

Due to conditions within Zimbabwe we were forced to close down the Dollar Block site and bring the lions back to the safety of Antelope Park in 2009.  The release site was rebuilt and Athena and her pride re-released on 1st September 2010.

Athena is most likely to be found chilling out with her sister Ashanti as well as with Kenge and Phyre, although of those, it is Phyre with which see seems to have the closest affinity.  Phyre is a similar size to Athena and the two spend much time resting on each other and grooming one another.  In fact 34% of all social interactions that Athena initiates are done so towards Phyre whilst 38% of all social interactions that she receives are from Phyre.

Athena and her buddy; Phyre




One response

23 02 2011
Tweets that mention Athena: an ugly duckling story… « The Ngamo Pride --

[…] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Lion Encounter and African Lion, African Lion. African Lion said: […]

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