The ongoing story

26 10 2011

The pride have continued to go through turbulent times.  Although a cub was located in Etosha with the pride early on Saturday (15 October) morning, no mother appeared to be nursing it.  AT1 was seen cuddled up next to it (and at one point in the day, the cub laid over the belly of AT1), but later on in the day when the pride started to move off and Athena tried to pick the cub up to take it with her, AT1 came trotting along to knock it out of her mother’s mouth.  The pride then left for the direction of Amboseli, leaving the cub by itself once more.

The cub was then not seen again until the following evening (16 October), where it was then located within the same area as the previous day.  The pride walked past the calling cub, but alas again no lion went over to see to it or take it with them.  The researchers noticed that the cub appeared to be thinner than it had been the day before, signalling that it probably hadn’t been nursed all day.

On Monday (17th), we went in to the release site in the morning to see the cub in Etosha under the same tree.  By that point it looked very thin and was in a deep sleep.  As the day went on, it became more and more lifeless and its breathing slowed down.

The whole pride (minus the denning Kenge) were sat in Amboseli the whole of Monday.  A group of crows started to congregate on the fence in the morning about 30 metres from the resting lions.  Kwali got up to chase them away, with Milo following behind.  The researchers assumed that the crows were probably pecking on some of bones found around that area from old kills.  However, later on in the day, Phyre got up to walk over to that same area and started to softly call and look around on the ground.  We originally thought she was calling to get the rest of the pride to follow her but then she sat down in the grass near to where the crows had been looking.  After a few minutes, Athena went over to her and picked up a lifeless cub from the ground next to Phyre.  The researchers left to confirm whether this was the same cub that we saw under the tree in Etosha during the previous few days.  However, sadly, it was not.  That particular cub was still alive (just about).

Now this complicates the drama going on with the cubs, because either one of these two cubs is Kenge’s, or both cubs that we saw Athena with over the last week have somehow miraculously been kept alive.  Phyre definitely seemed to be attached to the one she was seen next to, but she paid no attention to the one under the tree in Etosha for the days that we saw the pride there.  Either she has abandoned that cub entirely, or this cub is Kenge’s.   We will never know for certain, as we were not able to get a visual on how many cubs Kenge started off with and we cannot locate her any more as she has moved dens.  We just hope that she is being a great mother and will continue to look after any cubs she may have.

The researchers entered the site on Tuesday (18 October) morning to find the little abandoned cub in Etosha still alive.  However, it was breathing very slowly and did not respond to any stimuli around it.  It looked rather thin and had probably not suckled for a couple of days.  The researchers left to find the rest of the pride in Kruger and were pleasantly surprised to see Kenge present.  She looked fat, happy and content, and we were glad to see that her nipples looked like they had been very recently suckled.  It is common for mothers to come back to the pride every so often to check up on everyone and see if they have made a kill.  Unfortunately for Kenge, this time round the lions were being rather lazy and there was no sign of any imminent hunting action.  She left to rejoin her cubs later on in the day, and by the time the researchers came back in the afternoon, she was nowhere to be seen again.


By Wednesday (19 October) the researchers found that the little abandoned cub in Etosha had sadly died during the night.  It was taken out of the release site for a post-mortem; however, no signs of illness or malformation were found, therefore it was concluded that the cause of death was starvation from abandonment by its mother and the rest of the pride.  It also looked as if it had sustained a thigh injury possibly from when AT1 was picking it up by its legs.

The Ngamo pride have been getting very hungry of late.  Their last confirmed feed was on 14 October and the entire pride have been losing body condition since that date.  It appears Kenge has also been getting hungry as she has been present with the rest of the group for at least a few hours almost every day for the last four days.  By 23 October (Sunday) the entire pride were hot, grumpy and hungry.  They found the smallest possible tree to sit under next to waterhole three and were all fighting over the best spot.  Milo, as always, was bossing the rest of the group around and kept snarling at anyone that got too close to him.

At one point on Sunday, Nala appeared to be so hungry that she tried her luck at stalking a large group of vervet monkeys.  However, ever the vigilant and clever things that they are, the monkeys saw Nala far before she could get the chance to chase after them.  They scarpered up trees and looked down upon her, most probably with a smug look on their faces!

By the late afternoon, the pride had barely moved since the midday session.  Suddenly, Kwali put her head up, sniffed the air, and ran off.  The rest of the pride was soon to follow and they broke into a chase after her.  The researchers quickly followed to see what all the fuss was about and found the lions sniffing the ground and the air, looking around them at the back of Tree Tops.  It appeared as if this was territorial behaviour rather than hunting.

On 24 October (Monday) the lions finally decided to wake from their slumber later in the afternoon to hunt.  The researchers entered the site to find the entire pride munching on the remains of an impala in Amboseli, all covered in blood and chowing on the meat as if they’d never eaten before.  It was good to see them feeding again after so long, but one impala will not sustain the pride for long, so we expect to see them hunting again soon.  In fact, no sooner had they left the small remains of the carcass that AT1 was seen stalking, chasing and very almost catching a guinea fowl!  Good for her!


The comings and goings of PH1

15 10 2011

The researchers may have located what appears to be Kenge’s den on Wednesday (12 October).  She was spotted by the eagle-eyed driver close to Route 66 in Kruger, not far away from Phyre’s first den, and was sitting on a mound within a thicket.  As the vegetation was so dense around the mound, it was not possible to get a visual of any cubs, but she appeared content and plump.  We did not want to stick around long so as not to bother her, but returned again on Thursday (13 October) to find her perched on the same mound.  Again, visibility was poor so no cubs were seen.  By Friday (14 October), no lion could be seen on this mound and no sound of cubs calling was heard.  It is possible that Kenge has moved her den to another location, as is common in the wild to cut down on the build-up of parasites and reduce the chance of predators finding the den.

Nothing seems to last forever, including in the Ngamo pride release site.  Since observing what we presume to be Phyre’s last remaining cub being integrated well into the pride over the previous few days, things have changed again.  On Wednesday (12 October) the researchers spent the whole morning and midday sessions without getting a visual of the cub.  Then just as the researchers were about to leave (it always seems that action starts happening right before the end of the session!) a cub was heard calling approximately 70 m from the pride.  The sun was starting to set, so it was difficult to get a visual of the cub, but eventually we found it.  Some of the females had been seen to return to the pride from this direction, so it could be that they were attending to the cub.  However, as the vehicle approached, the cub started to walk in the direction of the noise of the vehicle, and the rest of the pride.  Possibly, the cub has is associating this stimulus with the location of the rest of the pride that are being observed.

During the next day (13 October) we could not locate the cub for the entire day.  The pride were beginning to look hungry again and some of the lions were a bit more trim around the waistline than usual.  Fortuitously, they came across a puku carcass at some point that night, and by Friday (14 October), had demolished most of it.  Alas there was still no sight or sound of the little cub for each research session.  But, the cub was seen again early on 15th October so we can only assume that it had been placed somewhere safe whilst the pride ate.

Confusing times

7 10 2011

There has been unrest in the release site over the last few days.  After Phyre relocated her litter on Monday (3 October) to a new den, the cubs were seen suckling their mother on Wednesday and Thursday.  However, only two cubs were counted during these time periods. Upon moving her first cub to the new den some 500 metres away, the rest of the litter were left unattended and Phyre was later seen moving another cub to the new den.  AT1 was observed on Monday carrying a cub around and playing with it quite some distance away from either the original or new den.  Is it possible that AT1 stumbled across the den whilst Phyre was away, and the playful AT1 thought that this new cub would be a great friend to play with?  However, her actions may have dire consequences; as AT1 becomes distracted with some other interesting stimulus and leaves the cub to fend for itself without a mother around to know of its location – blind, helpless and only a day or so old, the cub stands no chance to survive on its own, especially with the relentless rain and wind.   This third cub could also have been abandoned by Phyre because some instinctual awareness told her that this particular cub is unhealthy or unfit in some way – we will never know for sure, however Phyre has made no attempt to look or call for her third and missing cub.  Mothers of many species will abandon sick offspring if they do not think that it would be worth the precious time and resources to raise it only for it to die within a few days or weeks.  All we know at this point is that Phyre has two cubs with her, and seemingly AT1 has the third as a play thing.

We have not been able to confirm the location of Kenge’s den site yet as much of the release site is inaccessible by vehicle, especially when the roads become muddy.  It is likely that Kenge is busy preparing herself for her probable motherhood with the aid of her sister Kwali, who also was absent from the rest of the pride on Thursday.

Most of the lions have been spending their time on Wednesday and Thursday feeding intermittently on the carcass.  After the incident on Tuesday when Kenge attacked a vulture mid-air, the rest of the vultures seemed to have learnt their lesson and have stayed away whilst the lions are in residence.   However, the usually intelligent crows do not appear to have been deterred, leaving Athena no choice but to chase after them when they get too close to the food.

By Thursday, most of the scavengers had finally given up, leaving Athena in peace and quiet to attend to her lunch.  As she tried to drag the carcass around to access a yummy portion of ribs, she appeared to not realise her own strength and with one pull managed to haul the entire chest over herself, falling into the huge cavern of ribcage!  This did not seem to bother her one bit, as she continued on munching away as if nothing had ever happened.

As the sun was setting AT1 was seen with the cub again; and this time it suckled Athena alongside AT1.  Athena got up to move away from the area and called softly.  AT1 picked up the cub and started to follow but soon dropped it again.  After about 5 mins Phyre arrived, went to the calling cub and sniffed it then went straight to AT1 to biff her.  We thought she’d come to save the day but she started to walk off towards her den without the cub; but then stopped, turned around and walked back to the carcass, still paying little attention to the cub; further suggesting that Phyre may have abandoned this one.  The night closed in and we are not sure what further events took place as there was insufficient light to establish which lion was which or where the cub was.

Audacious antics from AT1

29 09 2011

It seems as if AT1 has decided that she’s a big lioness now.  After the heart attack she almost caused the researchers a few days ago when she wandered off on her own for a whole day only to return as if nothing had happened that same night, she once again decided to try out the single life on Monday (26th September).  The entire pride minus the cub were observed all day in Amboseli and Etosha, but this time, it seemed as if Athena had realised that her offspring could survive perfectly fine on her own, as she was not exhibiting any signs of distress (unlike just two days previously!).

The pride, complete with AT1, were observed on Tuesday (27th September) looking very hungry and agitated in Etosha, where they spent most of the day extremely vigilant to any stimulus smelled, seen or heard.  They have not made a big kill for some time now, but a few females have clearly been sneaking off to secretly hunt impala, as they have come back with tell-tale signs of blood on their faces – just like kids that have raided the cookie jar and have chocolate smeared over themselves!  On Wednesday (28th September) the pride was on a large carcass in Masai Mara that would serve the entire pride quite well for breakfast, lunch and dinner that day.

The researchers watched the pride feed and rest at the carcass for the duration of Wednesday, with the occasional trip to the waterhole to quench the thirst.  Feisty AT1 fed on the carcass in the afternoon next to her dad, Milo.  Initially it seemed as if he didn’t mind sharing his dinner, but as time went by, he started to voice his dissatisfaction with low growls that turned into loud objections.  Athena started to appear concerned that Dad might get into a fight with her cub so she came over to softly call AT1 away.  Now that AT1 thinks she’s a proper lioness, what with all these adventures she’s been on by herself, she stood her ground with Milo and boldly stole a rack of ribs from him – his favourite part of the kill – before making her getaway!  What a cheeky monkey she can be!  Athena seemed very proud of her cub as she then went to go sit with AT1 and her pilfered supper.  AT1 then even had the audacity to biff her mum around the face when Athena tried to steal a morsel to eat!   This cub is certainly growing up fast and the researchers are sure she will be quite some lioness!

AT1 goes missing

25 09 2011

The last few days have been quite hectic for the researchers and Ngamo pride alike.  The researchers entered the release site early on Saturday (24th September) morning to find Milo, Athena, Ashanti, Nala, Narnia and Kwali resting happily in Kruger.  Initially the researchers thought that AT1 was also present and therefore assumed excitedly that maybe Kenge and Phyre had finally decided to go off and den for their probable imminent cub births.  However, things were soon about to change as the researchers became aware that AT1 was in fact not present with the group.  The research team assumed she was probably just hanging out with Phyre and Kenge?  However, the behaviour of Athena started to worry them as the lioness walked towards Tree Tops seemingly in search of something; she started to smell the ground, the air and look around her.  Other lionesses and even Milo joined in, sniffing around.  Were they searching for their youngest pride member?

Milo headed back towards Kruger by himself and the rest of the females joined him.  The researchers followed Athena as she left to make her way on her own up Route 66 towards Leopard tree.  There, she became more and more agitated, circling around and sniffing the grass all around her.  She eventually met up again with the rest of the females, including Phyre and Kenge, by Crossroads; but still no AT1.  Again, all females seemed to be searching for something and we started to be seriously concerned for AT1.  Had she been taken by a python of which some huge ones are known to be in the area?  The researchers reluctantly left the site as their morning research session had finished, only to return an hour later to continue the search for AT1.  They found the females resting in Hwange with Athena vigilant to any sound around her.  The researchers decided to try driving around to look for AT1 but had no luck.  When they returned for the afternoon session, AT1 was still not present and none of the females were in an area we could get a visual.  Milo was seen a number of times by himself walking the boundary of his territory and scent marking.  Eventually, just before the researchers were going to give up, they came across the females at Spaghetti Junction.  Alas, AT1 had still not been found, and Athena was still searching.  At one point Athena stopped to gnaw on a two-month-old zebra leg with barely any flesh left on it.  She must have been up for most of the day trying to locate her lost cub and was extremely hungry and tired by this point.  Unfortunately as it was getting dark the researchers had to leave the site for safety reasons, leaving behind a tense pride still on the search for their lost cub.

A search party came out later that night armed with a flashlight to help find the cub.  By this point, everyone was worried that the worst had happened to her.  However, between the time that the researchers had left and the search party arrived, AT1 had reappeared!  She was in Amboseli with some of the females including her mother and looked fit and healthy, and completely unaware of the concern that she had caused.

The next morning the researchers returned to find the entire pride resting in Amboseli.  Initially, Athena was very vigilant to any move that AT1 made, making sure that she kept an eye on her cheeky cub.  However, as the day went on and AT1 was back to her old tricks of trying to suckle from her mother, Athena grew tired of her nagging cub and let Nala and Narnia deal with her overly energetic activities.  Nala and Narnia spent most of the afternoon grooming and playing with AT1 – ever the great aunties that they are!  The researchers breathed a sigh of relief as all had returned to normal in the Ngamo Pride.


Weaning time for AT1, and she ain’t best pleased about it

14 09 2011

Entering the site on a beautiful summer’s morning on Saturday (10th September) the research team found Nala and Narnia feeding on what appeared to be a steenbok kill.  The majority of the carcass had already been consumed suggesting that they had been hunting during the early hours of the morning.  Milo was with the two sisters but didn’t seem particularly interested in the remains of the kill, nor did he look like he had already fed, suggesting that he had probably only just arrived on the scene.

The team left the three in peace and started to try and locate the other females. After a while searching we eventually found the rest of the pride walking along the boundary road of Etosha.  Nala, Narnia and Milo soon joined them and they all headed towards waterhole three.  There they stopped to rehydrate themselves before settling down to rest under the shady trees.  Whilst resting it appeared as if Nala may have been having nightmares as she kept waking up in a startle and scaring the other dozing members of the pride.

When the team returned in the afternoon the pride was in the middle of a mass social grooming session with practically everybody grooming everybody, except for Milo of course who was still zonked out a few metres away.

Interestingly AT1 was seen attempting to suckle her aunt Ashanti on several occasions, and even had a go with Narnia. Cubs are weaned between the age of six to eight months; and as AT1 is rapidly approaching eight months old it appears that she is trying to push her luck and figure out where else she can get some tasty milk from besides her mother whose supply will now be drying up.  Ashanti is not likely to be producing milk and soon had enough of the pesky youngster (who is sporting a fine set of sharp teeth with which to clamp on to a teat!) and kicked her off. Disgruntled, AT1 returned to her mother and desperately attempted to suckle her instead but after a few minutes Athena had also had enough and gave her a nip on the head to tell her daughter to behave. Clearly AT1 is not happy about having to move to a milk free diet!  Such is life.

Year two begins

1 09 2011

As the sun rose over the release site creating another beautiful African sunrise on Thursday (1st September) another milestone for the ALERT program was reached.  The team entered the site celebrating the one-year anniversary of the Ngamo pride release.

Of course the lions had no idea how special the day was but for our research team sharing another day inside the life of the pride was the perfect way to celebrate.  The team practically bumped into Kwali, Nala and Ashanti as they moved south along route 66 towards Etosha, and the rest of the pride was not far behind.

They slowly ambled their way in to Serengeti East (an area recently burnt) and settled down to indulge in some grooming before eventually falling asleep. Being two of the most playful lionesses, Nala and Narnia celebrated the special day with a game of chase and some serious rough and tumble before the heat of the day got too much and they also succumbed to their drooping eyelids.

It a fitting scene for the occasion, the seven girls rested close together, reaffirming the strong bonds that have been the cornerstone of the pride’s success, whilst Milo entertained his daughter a short distance away.  We can only hope that the second year is just as successful as the first for the Ngamo pride. Happy anniversary!

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