Milo did what?

6 07 2011

First of all we apologize for the recent gaps in coverage.  This is due to David’s computer dying and needing some TLC.  Secondly, we also have to inform you that ASM1 was found dead on the morning of 2nd July.  We do not have an answer yet as to why.  Ashanti has already been seen mating, which coincides with the right timing based on her whole litter dying when we knew the other two cubs disappeared.  This leads us to consider that she had in fact abandoned the whole litter from the get-go and ASM1 survived longer as he was stronger, but also because he had access to Athena’s milk.  As we have said many times this was all expected given that these females were having their first litters.  However, now all four breeding females have been through the process once.  Athena managed to keep AT1 and Kenge, Phyre and Ashanti have all mated again in the past week or so.  We can therefore expect a whole creche to be born in 3 – 3.5 months time with a higher survival rate, although still likely only 40%, as is normal for lions.

Now, back to the timeline…

As usual we set out to conduct our monthly game count on the 29th June. We drove down into Masai Mara after spotting a small herd of impala and zebra in the distance and we soon discovered the Ngamo pride had also spotted the elusive game before us.

As the lionesses fanned out through the open grassed plains we obtained a vantage point from the hill of Serengeti West and watched with baited breath. As Nala and Narnia disappeared into the distance of Serengeti East, Athena demonstrated the art of stalking to AT1. A lone zebra, separated from their herd during a chase from Kenge trotted within meters of mother and cub. AT1 appeared mesmerised by mother’s precision and care through the tall grass edging closer to her prey. Unfortunately, already spooked, the zebra ran out of reach further into Masai Mara to rejoin the anxious herd.

On the 30th our camp manager met us beaming on the way into Ngamo claiming to have heard a kill being made in the Tree Tops area during a boundary patrol. We raced through the gate and down into the scrub and found some suspicious blood stains upon the lionesses but no sign of a carcass. Finally after some nifty telemetry work we followed strong signal into the grass of Tree Tops to find most pride members feeding upon an impala kill! As always with impala not much was left upon our arrival but our team was extremely pleased to see the Ngamo pride change the menu for once!

On the 1st we found Phyre again in the Tree Tops area by water hole 3, again covered in blood stains. Surely our lions were not lacking in hygiene now and not grooming?? This was certainly not the case. We followed Phyre and Narnia moving into the tall grass and found the remains of a zebra kill not far from the previous days impala dish.

It would appear the pride have found and ideal hunting spot here and remained for the rest of the day lounging in the sun.

By late afternoon a resident herd of zebra was seen loitering amongst the scrub and dangerously close to the sleeping lions. Phyre surprisingly was the one who picked up the scent and began the hunt. She, Nala, Narnia and Kenge disappeared into the bush whilst Milo, Ashanti, Athena and Kwali slept. Suddenly the herd stampeded towards the water hole rudely awakening Milo. We repositioned our vehicle to observe the herd and witnessed what we all thought was impossible. Ashanti quick to her paws sprinted after the fleeing zebra closing in upon a sub-adult lagging behind the adults and Milo too charged towards the culprit who awoke him. We lost visual but suddenly heard the frantic yelps of a zebra in dire trouble! We raced around and found Milo suffocating the sub-adult with a perfect throat hold whilst Ashanti and Athena began to open up the best parts of the zebra during its last struggling breaths!

Not only was this the first kill ever witnessed by our researcher but probably the first kill ever made by the King of Ngamo! We take off our hats to the alpha male for providing for his ladies in such a fantastic manner.


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.

When AT1 met her cousin

25 06 2011

We’ve had yet another 2 successful zebra kills in Ngamo in the past 4 days. We found most pride members by the first kill on 21st June in the Etosha area. As usual Milo was observed throwing his weight around chasing off the females whilst AT1 tumbled over the discarded zebra legs and ribs in glee.

Telemetry signal indicated both Ashanti and Kwali were still located in the Hwange area, presumably by Ashanti’s den and cubs. Later on in the day though we caught sight of Kwali feeding upon the days left over’s after the others had left. We had no visual of Ashanti but heard her calling softly to her pride members from the direction of water hole 1. Kwali’s ears pricked up and immediately she ran to her friend’s beck and call taking with her a zebra leg perhaps for the two to share! We presumed Ashanti to have fed at some point upon the carcass. With suckling a litter of 3 she will be rapidly losing energy and fat reserves so must make the most of the food she finds when leaving the den.

On the 23rd we found the 2nd zebra kill in the Valley area. It appeared once again we had just missed the action by minutes. It was a blood-splattered Athena who led us to the scene of 8 frenzied lions feeding. All pride members were accounted for and a visual of Ashanti showed her to be in fantastic condition and obviously suckling.

We returned to the kill site during our mid-morning research session for quite a shock. Whilst it appeared the other pride members had moved off to drink, Athena and Ashanti slept off their breakfast in the shade of the thicket the zebra had been dragged into. As usual AT1 was still wide-awake and full of energy but it seemed she finally had a playmate. A piercing squeal was heard from nearby to AT1’s position and a tiny little cub popped out from the grass. Our research team was stunned. We watched in awe as little AT1, 5-6kgs heavier than the cub gently play with her approximately 2-week-old cousin. We were initially concerned AT1’s size and energy may be too much for the newborn, even at just 5 months old AT1 could easily sustain serious injury to the cub. Occasionally the cub, which we suspect to be male and provisionally named ASM1, would cry out if his cousin played too rough and both Ashanti and Athena would sit-up to attention.

As the hours passed we observed the little cub begin to suckle from his aunt Athena alongside cousin AT1. This behaviour is typical of those cubs and females within a crèche. Females with cubs will pool their litters together to primarily increase cub defense, though other benefits include engaging in play with peers and increased suckling opportunities. Athena was observed occasionally grooming her nephew affectionately whilst mum slept close-by. We suspect the relation between Ashanti and Athena may be indicative of Athena’s acceptance of this cub.

As fantastic and stunning as this visual was we are concerned that the cub was very close to a recently made kill and any lions returning to feed may cause injury to the vulnerable new born. We are also aware that there was no sign of the other 2 cubs seen in a previous den. It seemed odd for Ashanti to only move one cub to potentially a new den.

We will be keeping a close eye out for the other 2 cubs and monitoring crèche development amongst these females and would remind readers that this is Ashanti’s first ever litter and is likely to have similar mortality as previously observed..

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