Trials and Tribulations of ASM1

29 06 2011

We ventured down route 66 on the morning of the 27th June and joined the Ngamo pride enjoying another zebra kill. As Milo picked off the meat from the ribs AT1 amused herself with her tiny cousin ASM1 who had been brought yet again to a kill site.

We observed AT1 playing rather roughly with the youngster and it appeared his cries were going unnoticed by mother Ashanti. Our hearts stopped for a few seconds when Milo proceeded to drag the carcass further into the dense thicket of Tree Tops almost directly over ASM1 who was stumbling around at his paws. Fortunately dad managed to maneuver the huge carcass away from the little cub who then proceeded out into the open of the road.  Kenge, Phyre, Narnia and Kwali approached ASM1 briefly in turns to pat gently at him out of curiosity and tumbling him over as he is still unsteady on his paws.

By not keeping her cub in the safety of a secluded den Ashanti may lose ASM1 to injury inflicted by another pride member, snakes, birds or prey, or even the bitterly cold temperatures we are experiencing at the moment. We were beginning to suspect she was perhaps abandoning her cub for reasons unknown. Females have often been documented to abandon cubs with underlying health issues that are unknown to observers such as our research team. Yet it was apparent she or someone else was carrying the cub to these locations, as he is far too small and uncoordinated at this age to move such distances alone.

As the day proceeded we did however note Ashanti to suckle ASM1 and shortly after Athena also.  We can assume by this point that the other two cubs of the litter did not survive the first few days.

On the 28th June we had another shock when discovering yet again Ashanti had potentially carried ASM1 to another location. The pride were gathered along the boundary road of Etosha with AT1 was once again playing rough and tumble with ASM1 out in the open. Eventually the pride moved off leaving defenseless ASM1 exposed out in the road. We observed him calling to his mother but with no response he retreated to the cover of the grass nearby.

Later in the day the pride returned to the area to rest and Ashanti proceeded alone to ASM1’s last known whereabouts. Our researcher prayed that she was returning to her cub and low and behold we watched in awe as Ashanti gently carried her baby between her enormous canines to the pride again.

Most interestingly though Ashanti appeared to intentionally leave ASM1 close to sister Athena before moving off away from her son. After crying and stumbling for some time ASM1 finally found the warmth and milk of Athena and began to suckle. Unfortunately though cousin AT1 also wanted to feed and rebuffed her cousin numerous times from latching onto a teat.

Research conducted upon crèche formation in wild prides has shown that mothers with single litters are more likely to suckle those cubs of other lionesses, especially those of first-order kin such as sisters, as they may have excess milk. AT1 is also reaching a weaning age and is therefore suckling less often also resulting in excess milk availability for ASM1. Unfortunately though ASM1 is still far too young and small to compete over teats/milk access with 5 month old AT1. At approximately 3 weeks old he should be within a den where he has sole access to his mothers milk and can therefore build the strength needed to able to compete and survive within a crèche containing older cubs.

Although difficult to observe at times, such incidents are crucial in regards to our research. We suspect such behaviour to be a result of Ashanti being a first time mother and making the expected errors of judgement in her maternal care.  However even if Ashanti is not keeping ASM1 safely tucked away in a den, if he can access enough milk regularly, which his condition so far suggests he can, he may survive to such an age where he will able to keep up with AT1’s play bouts and suckling competitions.

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4 responses

29 06 2011
Joyce Kinton

What a fascinating story about the pride and the way they feel about each other..
So Ashanti is happy that her sister,AT1’s mum has taken to suckling the newest member of the pride…..
I suppose it was clear the other cubs died and thats the way even among themselves…its a hard, tough world in the wild and it happens all the time…
I so love the pics this time…little ASM1 will soon be up and running with his cousin and AT1 had better watch out then !!
Absolutely fascinating to read…its the closest we;ve been to the daily happenings in pride who have been taken to their natural habitat…what a series that will make ! PLease let there be one >? Luv Joyce xx

29 06 2011
Joyce Kinton

What an absolutely fascinating daily look at the pride…growing little ones, someone for AT1 to play with soon !
I love the way we feel we’re there also following their escapades !
I dont think anyone else has tackeld this before thats why its so intersting and unsual…\I find myself looking for a mail from the Ngamo pride…its always informative and the pics are great..I esp like the one where Ashanti is carrying her little one in her mouth….sooo tiny but in 3 months will have grown beyond recognition…so he was the only one to survive….its sad but its the way out there in the wild…not only are they at risk from other predators but from Mum and Dad too…theres reason to be happy for one healthy cub who, in the future, will play his part in keeping the name of the pride going…thanks for this pleasure….Joyce xx

30 06 2011
Jan

Hello Joyce,
I think we met at AP – My husband and I were guests and on our way to LE Livingstone. We thoroughly enjoyed our time there and are now back in France – It is amazing to see these photos – we heard about the birth events in Livingstone and am so happy to see that so far so good for the 3 week old cub and that AT1 is doing well. Jan

29 06 2011
This Deconstructed Life

I agree, the photos are spectacular. The relationship dynamic between Athena and Ashanti is fascinating, and at times, mirrors characteristics of an elephant herd. Though seemingly unfortunate that the other cubs didn’t survive, it’s probably what needs to occur to build a strong gene pool, and ensure the health of future prides. Love following this pride.

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