Bullying in the playground

20 03 2012

 

Our researcher has felt quite sorry for AT1 at times since the arrival of the new cubs.  Often she has been observed watching her younger siblings play with a look of bemusement on her face. As we know AT1 lost the two siblings of her litter early on in life and never had other cubs to play and interact with whilst growing up in Ngamo. Nala and Narnia pitched in as fantastic playmates whilst she was a youngster but this was never quite the same as playing with peers.

However over the past few days it seems AT1 has been reminded she is still very much a cub and not quite yet a lioness. Rather than proving her maturity amongst the pride AT1 has been throwing her weight around with the cubs.

On the 13th those in the research vehicle were in fits of laughter as AT1 battled with a dead, weedy tree before winning a tough match of tug-of-war over a stick with KE3. KE4 and AS4 looked on with their own sticks giving them a good chew but AT1 was having none of this and demanded all sticks be within her possession. Proving to be the real bully of the playground AT1 proceeded to steal the sticks from the cubs and wrestle AS5 to the ground on the way. The little male however made sure his thoughts on AT1’s foolhardy behaviour was known as he gave her a firm bite on the nose.

On the 15th we saw some further bullying but this time amongst the lionesses. As AT1 frolicked about further with her mini gang Ashanti moved off for a grooming session with Phyre. Both appeared in social heaven as they licked one another’s faces and quickly caught the attention of Kwali. Kwali sauntered over to join the love-fest but as she approached Ashanti flattened her ears and began to growl. Kwali gently bent down to greet Phyre but was met instead by a forceful paw in the face from Ashanti. Never one to argue, Kwali backed down close by and watched the two females groom feeling somewhat rejected!

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Cubs! be quiet and pay attention

5 03 2012

Both KE3 and KE4 have been observed with the pride virtually every day recently, but this has not been the case with AS4 and AS5.  Being exactly one month younger than the KEs, mother Ashanti is leaving them in a den still, giving them a chance to conserve their energy and keep out of the way when the adults are hunting!  On the 3rd March the entire pride, including AS4 and 5 were together. Both cubs appeared in good condition, if a little gangly at this age.  Even at a mere 4 months old AS5 is already beginning to show signs of the huge growth spurt he will go through. The difference in height is already quite visible between brother and sister but it is still AS4 with the larger character!

On that morning we found all females and cubs resting on the road that passes near to water hole one. Suddenly Phyre sat to attention, vigilant to an approaching herd of impala. Phyre rose to her paws and skulked off into the nearby vegetation whilst the others sat exposed yet frozen. The impala slowly mingled their way into a large thicket, obscuring any view they may have of the lions. Narnia, always looking for an opportunity quickly flanked left around the thicket and out of sight. Meanwhile Ashanti, Kenge and AT1 focused their attention upon some grazing zebra who were completely unaware of the cats.

The zebra began to move in closer, to within 15m! Noisy little AS4 and 5 soon picked up upon their mother’s behaviour and piped down, also focussing their attention upon the strange stripy beasts. Suddenly an impala ram spotted the lionesses and gave the alarm. Neither the zebra nor the rest of his herd reacted immediately, but just as it appeared the lionesses luck was in the game spooked and bolted away.  AT1 wasn’t about to let this opportunity escape her and she too bolted after the animals. After a quick 20m sprint she realized her efforts would be fruitless and gave up. We then spotted Narnia appearing from the thicket presumably from attempting to ambush the herd and push them towards the other lionesses. Despite the failure the whole event was no doubt an important learning session for the young cubs and it was fantastic to observe them paying attention to the adults behaviour and learning when to keep quiet!





The social life of AT1

17 02 2012

At nearly 13 months old young AT1 is a well-established member of the Ngamo pride, but who does she appear to be closest to?  And what does she make of these youngsters running around the place?

Sometimes AT1 can be found with the adults

And sometimes with the cubs

We took a look at who her nearest neighbour has been when the pride is observed since the beginning of the year.  Dad is obviously a little daunting for AT1 and he ranks lowest of the adults as the lion she is most likely to be closest to.  She is also clearly avoiding the current mothers of the group (Ashanti and Kenge) who at this time are highly protective of their cubs, and occasionally very grouchy, especially when they have sharp teeth clamped to their teats.  Former favourite Narnia has dropped down the list below aunt Kwali.  In second place is Nala with Phyre her most frequent nearest neighbour. AT1 has clearly understood which side her bread is buttered and is sticking close to the alpha female of the pride, although that situation is likely to change when Phyre too becomes a mother (expected) in the near future.  This pattern is also mirrored when looking at which lions AT1 greets most often.  As for which lions greet AT1; its Narnia, a lowly lion in the pecking order of the Ngamo pride, that most frequently greets our young lioness.

And there is clear favouritism between AT1 and the other cubs of the pride as well.  The interactions between AT1 and KE4 and AS4 are few and far between, although both will occasionally entice a play bout.  Young male AS5 comes second, but is least likely of the four cubs to start a play session with AT1, preferring to tackle smaller adversaries.

AT1 and KE3 however seem to have a little love affair going on.  AT1 is found with KE3 as her nearest neighbour more than the combined number of times she is found nearest any other cub.  And the number of social interactions between the pair are double than those with any other.

Occasionally it can all get a bit much, especially when the youngest members of the pride come in numbers.

And so, like any young lady, our precious AT1 finds a quiet spot away from all the others: just to be on her own with her thoughts (probably about what is for dinner)





Phyre on fire

12 02 2012

Mothers Kenge and Ashanti have obviously had enough of their cub’s endless energy and, in need of break, left their cubs in a den on the 9th.  The females, free of interruptions from demanding cubs, slept soundly and undisturbed for most of the day before setting off upon their daily rounds in the late afternoon. Nala and Narnia lead the way south from the Kruger area into Etosha and all sleepily followed. However something suddenly woke Phyre up as she leapt in the air with a startled growl. Nala turned back to Phyre’s rescue to investigate the disturbance and bare her canines at whatever it was on the ground causing such a reaction. Eventually the lionesses lost interest and AT1 curiously approached too before catching up with the parade leading away. We pulled our vehicle up to where Phyre was given a shock, and where we suspected there was a snake of some sort.  We were bang on the money!  A 3-meter rock python spread out from his coils.  We’ve seen a few pythons in the release site over the past year and a half and although they are impressive they pose a serious threat to young cubs.  It’s therefore great to see the caution the lionesses use when approaching these monster snakes.

The 10th started off with a spark and ended with a bang for the pride. We found the females moving through Serengeti East towards water hole 2 in pursuit of a large impala herd. The females, downwind, formed a perfect linear formation, hidden in the tall grass, some 100m from the herd and watched intently their prey’s movements.  Unfortunately the herd began to move further off towards water hole 1 and the lionesses obviously felt this time the odds were against them and took to some nearby acacia’s to sleep. However unbeknown to them a very young impala calf had been left by their mother some 70m from the pride. We watched with baited breath the entire day as the calf continuously rose and broke its cover, yet no lions spotted it.

By the afternoon we could no longer see the calf and the pride began to move off south along Route 66 with Kenge leading. As Kenge passed through an area of very tall grass Nala took up the rear and suddenly began to stalk. We spotted a lone impala, which we presumed to be the calf’s mother in the area and it seemed Nala was hot on her case. Then out of nowhere Nala and Phyre shot like a bullet over the open grass of the Camp area in pursuit of the previously seen impala calf!  The calf circled frantically trying to out run the hungry lionesses but all in vain. Phyre closed in upon the little lamb and grabbed it by the neck. She then sprinted away from the other startled pride members but Ashanti, Kenge and Kwali were not about to let a potential mouthful go to waste. The females scuffled momentarily over the catch and Kenge, Kwali, Ashanti and Phyre all managed to split the calf adequately. Most surprising was Milo’s reaction. He jogged over to the girls but rather than throwing his weight around as usual for a bite he merely sniffed at those with meat and moved off to wait until they had finished!

To no ones surprise not even a hoof was left for the rest of pride. By the time the lucky females began to clean themselves up the mini-Ngamo pride arrived. KE3, KE4, AS4 and AS5 ran frantically to Kenge and began to lick the blood from her whiskers. They had obviously heard the commotion and braved leaving the den alone in hopes of catching a meaty meal. However they had to make do with another milk-based dinner from Ashanti.

All must have been grateful for Phyre’s quick thinking and moves!





One of our tortoises is missing…

8 02 2012

It has been alarmingly dry over December and January. Although we do not want a repeat of last years flooding the Ngamo vegetation has been in dire need of a shower or two. Thankfully our calls have been answered and the December rains have finally appeared in February.

We found the pride in the northern area of Etosha on the 3rd, which appears to have become the new play area for the Ngamo cubs, and all were still finishing off breakfast.  By the afternoon, after another sweltering day, we found Milo panting in the shade of a small tree in the Camp area. We were unable to locate the rest of pride who had no doubt gone to also seek shade too, so spent the research session sympathetically watching Milo and his huge mane in the heat. Fortunately for Milo by 17:30 a thunderous storm cell was forming above Ngamo and in a matter of minutes the heavens opened up. The rain quite literally washed our research vehicle away as we tried to race away from the impending lightening.

We observed an unsuccessful hunt by the lionesses on the 5th, although we must point out, little AS5 had decided to tag along with mum and his incessant cries probably did the hunt no favors. Ironically though it was he and the rest of the mini-Ngamo members that showed the adults what for by taking out and devouring (partly) a tortoise on the 6th. We found AS4 knawing on the little teenage mutant ninja tortoise’s leg but we suspect that it was AT1 who perhaps caught and killed the reptile. Despite AS4’s best efforts she is not quite strong enough at 3 months old to break open a tortoise shell on her own. Still though, our hats go off to the little cubs!





Monkey-ing around

31 01 2012

We arrived in Ngamo bright and early on the 25th finding Milo fast asleep, as per usual, in Amboseli. After jotting down some coordinates and other data we proceeded along route 66 searching for any signs of the lionesses. Luckily for us we were met with Kenge sprawled out upon the road, surrounded by four sleepy cubs. With no sign of the other females we presumed Kenge had been designated baby-sitter for the morning and was doing a splendid job.

Soon the January rains began to roll in over Ngamo. AS4 and AS5 bounced into the long grass for shelter and were soon followed by KE3 and KE4.

After a good soaking the rain began to ease up and this sent the cubs into a whirlwind of energy. Kenge looked on as AS5 shimmied some 3m up a nearby tree. KE3 soon could not resist the temptation of little AS5’s tail dangling and proceed to clamber up after him for a good tug. This monkey-ing around continued throughout the morning session until all cubs were adequately tired out.

By the afternoon we were struggling to find the rest of the pride. We trawled through Kruger, Tree Tops and the Valley to no avail when suddenly our researcher spotted a flash of gold racing through the undergrowth of Hwange. We soon caught up with the commotion to find Ashanti holding a baby impala between her jaws. AT1 and Kwali were following closely behind but kept a respectable distance from the hungry mother. Ashanti then settled down under a nearby bush and tucked into her well-earned snack. After a mere 10mins it was as if the impala had not even touch the sides! Ashanti moved off after cleaning up any crumbs and left poor AT1 sniffing somberly at the ground.

On the 27th we rolled once again along route 66 this time to find Ashanti with her brood accompanied by Phyre and AT1. Whilst the adults and AT1 slept AS4 and AS5 tumbled around with one another before breaking for breakfast. However Ashanti was not at all impressed with her cub’s brazened approach to suckle and repositioned. It wasn’t long before AS5 announced his protests very loudly and incessantly to this. His efforts however proved most successful and Ashanti rolled onto her back offering a meal for the two cubs.

At lunchtime we thought we were in for the ultimate chase and catch scene. Kwali and Kenge were located by water hole 2 vigilant to a large herd of impala. Kenge appeared to flank left around the water hole into the long grass whilst Kwali held fire in the small thicket some 50m from the herd. After TWO HOURS of watching, poised over binoculars it appeared Kenge might have gotten side tracked with other engagements leaving poor Kwali stuck in the thicket. Although a fantastic huntress there was a good 30m of open space for Kwali to somehow pass through without being seen. Eventually Kwali settled down and the herd began to move off further into Serengeti East.

We returned in the afternoon in high hopes of further hunting but Kwali, obviously fed up with hunting in the midday sun went and settled alongside Ashanti and co. Once again AS4 and AS5 provided some comedy gold for our research team climbing more trees and pulling more tails. It is beginning to seem that AS4 is the most confident and boisterous of the two. She decided to launch an all-mighty attack on her brother. These two youngsters will no doubt be causing more chaos for the pride as they grow more and more confident.





A look back in the life of AT1

29 01 2012

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