27 10 2011

When we started the release stages of the African Lion Rehabilitation & Release into the Wild Program we understood that some very difficult decisions would need to made, including as regards individual lions.  We have taken the incredibly tough decision to remove Athena permanently from the Ngamo release pride in response to this lions’ negative impact on achieving one element of the Program’s goals; that of achieving a socially stable pride that maximizes cub reproduction.

As you may be aware from our recent updates Athena has previously and again more recently acted in a predatory manner towards cubs born to other females within the pride.  Whilst previous incidents (Kenge’s cubs earlier in 2011) could only be reasonably assumed to have been killed by Athena she was observed doing the same with Phyre’s recent litter.  In addition, she has been observed carrying around other lioness’s cubs, although she periodically allowed these to suckle her.  Its possible that some of the cubs she was carrying may have been abandoned by their mother.

On 26 October we observed Kenge trying to move den sites.  This move was intercepted by Athena, who stole the cub Kenge was moving and ran off with it.  Kenge tried to retrieve her cub, but was met with aggression by Athena who was able to retain the cub.  Kenge followed Athena but she was not permitted to get close to her cub again as a result of continued aggression by Athena.  Kenge departed this location and presumably returned to her den site to look after the rest of her litter. Athena continued to sniff and paw the cub she had withheld.  After 10 minutes Athena walked away and rested 20 metres from the cub whilst keeping a vigilant eye on it.  The cub crawled into the shade and protection of a tree.  It did not look visibly injured.

Because of these events we cannot continue to keep Athena with the pride if we are to achieve the aims of the Program.  We are also concerned that AT1 might learn this behaviour from her mother, which could negatively affect the future success of this pride.  We have given the pride time and opportunity to successfully reproduce but Athena’s continued impact on this cannot continue and she has been encouraged into the holding enclosure adjacent to the site and is being moved to a location away from the site.

The decision to keep AT1 within the pride has not come lightly.  We are aware that this will temporarily distress both Athena and AT1, but it is not uncommon for cubs to be separated from their mothers or for their mothers to die before the cub reaches adulthood.  AT1 is now nine months of age and is fully weaned.  She has integrated well into the pride and all lions accept her as one of their own.  She is a confident and boisterous female, able to defend herself well and fight for meat at a kill.   Additionally, she has been observed spending an increasing amount of time away from her mother and her interest and skill in hunting independently is growing by the day.  We therefore have no doubt that she will become a successful lioness within the pride.

We are pleased to announce that Kenge was reunited with her stolen cub yesterday evening.  Kenge had brought an additional cub from her den to sit with her and the rest of the pride as they ate on a carcass.  The other lions did not show any negative behaviour and Kenge kept an extremely close eye on it, making sure that it did not walk too near to any other lion.  She even snarled at her sister, Kwali, who got a bit too close for comfort to the cub.  The new cub was also seen suckling and being groomed by Kenge.   Later on in that evening, the lost cub that had been hiding under the same tree all day finally came out from its shelter as the sun started to set.  It toddled over to the pride and Kenge instantly spotted it.  She ran over and greeted it, sniffing and grooming it, as the other cub followed on behind her.  We were extremely relieved to see the happy family whole and safe once again.

Today (27 October), Kenge was spotted feeding on the carcass again briefly before returning to the direction that we presume her den to be in.  No cubs were spotted, so we can only guess that she has taken both cubs back to the safety of her den.  Kenge has proved to be an excellent mother on two previous occasions and we hope that she will now be able to raise her family without further incident.

Ashanti is also potentially going to give birth in the very near future and the research team is looking out for denning behaviour.

Athena will now be returned to the breeding programme and will retire permanently from the Ngamo pride.  We must remember that this project is the first of its kind and as such it has not been and will not be without its struggles.  We are learning a great deal about lions and carnivore reintroductions as we continue with our work; some of this must be down to trial and error as previous knowledge on these protocols are often not available.  We tried to keep Athena in with the pride, but this is now not an option.  We have every hope that the future of the Ngamo pride will now be far brighter without this obstacle to success in its way.




6 responses

27 10 2011

Aww, this decision to remove Athena from the pride could not have been an easy one and is very sad. I can’t help but feel that AT1 will miss her immensly. AT1 has intergrated with the pride and now “one of them” but think that this might have an adverse affect on her. So sad that she won’t be with her “Mom”. You have to protect the cubs and if you believe that she is killing them then that is the right thing to do, I can’t help feel sad for both AT1 and Athena though, and hope that AT1 is not being put at risk without her Mom.

27 10 2011
Jan Caire

Absolutely the right decision – as viewed by this blogger, in any case Kenge seemed relieved and I can say we are all relieved that for the moment more cub deaths would seem not to be imminent. It’s interesting to see the differences in temperament in Lions. Whew…..

27 10 2011
Joyce Kinton

Its with great sadness that Athena is being moved away from the pride…Its the right thing but hard to think shes been so disruptive to the other pride members esp their cubs…
Ofcourse its important the pride is well balanced and that the babies are being given a chance of survival…still cant help feeling sad for her..
Its good news that her Cub AT1 is coming on so well and has established her place within the family…I look forward to the other cubs being born and hope they will all survive as AT1 has xx

27 10 2011
asiatic lion

very sad

28 10 2011

Very sad for Athena and AT1 but if best for the programme, has to be done. Couldn’t have been an easy decision for you to make.

12 12 2011
Coda (Home Is Where You Get Across) « Africa or Bust!

[…] would remain with the pride in Stage 2.  It obviously was a very difficult decision to make, and the reasons behind it can be read in detail here.  When taken on the whole, it’s a sensible decision.  We’ve had further news that […]

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