The milk run

22 06 2011

Cubs are persistent in their demand for nourishing milk, and AT1 is no exception.  We have observed 87 attempts to suckle since AT1 permanently joined the pride, although it must be noted that there will have been many more, but mother and daughter are often hidden away during such intimate moments.  Of these 87 attempts AT1 found that mum had closed the bar on 9 occasions and she had to go hungry.

Of the times when Athena was more agreeable to having some sharp teeth clamped to her nipple (cubs are vigourous when feeding), these were spread through the day as follows.  Bear in mind that we have not tried to observe suckling on a 24 hour basis, so time blocks only correspond with principle research sessions and cannot be seen as being the distribution of suckling throughout an entire day.  Studies of lions in the Serengeti showed that whilst suckling could take place at any time of day, this was more likely just after dawn and just before dusk.  In our observations the dawn session seems more popular.

The same Serengeti study showed that suckling bouts lasted 1 – 10 minutes, up to 20.  For AT1 she averages 5 minutes and 23 seconds, spread as shown.   However in June there has been a sharp decrease to an average of only 4 minutes and 28 seconds per suckle.

Females may start to stop producing milk when cubs are 5 – 6 months old, but most retain at least some milk for 7 to 8 months.  AT1 is now 5 months old and the weaning process is starting as meat becomes the more important element of her diet.  She will continue to suckle for some time, even if no milk is achieved as a means of social contact, until, at some point, mum firmly puts a stop to the milk run.

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