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.

The rain comes: moving day for the cubs

5 10 2011

The last few days have been very chaotic for both the pride and researchers.  With Phyre attending to her new cubs and Kenge currently off to den, the rest of the group appeared to be scattered and indecisive.  The researchers spotted individual and pairs of lions all across the release site on both Monday (3 October) and Tuesday (4 October), with many of the pride not staying long in any one location.  The weather has probably got a lot to do with this restless behaviour, as the rains arrived on Monday, causing the temperature to drop and bringing more energy to the usually sedentary lions during the middle of the day.

The rains have also possibly been the cause of Phyre moving her cubs from a dense thicket near Route 66 to a rocky thicket in Serengeti East, which, coincidentally enough, just happens to be exactly the same spot where AT1 spent much of the start of her life.  As the storms can be prolonged and heavy, it is a good decision for Phyre to transfer her precious offspring to an area that will not become thick with sticky mud.  The cubs were spotted again on Tuesday suckling from a very sleepy mother – it must sap a lot of energy looking after continually hungry kids!

By Tuesday afternoon the whole pride were found in Serengeti East close to the carcass of a giraffe that had recently died of natural causes.  It came as a bit of a surprise to the researchers to see both Phyre and Kenge present at the kill, the latter of whom looked like her tummy had shrunk somewhat from the last time she was spotted.  This indicates that she has probably given birth, but we are not sure of her den location nor of the number of cubs that have been born yet.  She appeared to be absolutely famished as she gulped down as much of the giraffe carcass as she possibly could with a surprisingly calm Milo next to her.  Does he know that she has recently given birth to his cubs and therefore allowed her to feed next to him so that she could have enough energy reserves to go back and attend to their offspring?

Just before the end of the research session, vultures started to descend onto one part of the carcass that was located in the shade of some trees about 70 m from the pride.  Ashanti scoured the sky and drew her gaze down to the location that the vultures appeared to be dropping into.  She then got up and started to walk towards the vultures, with Kenge and Milo quick to follow.  They broke out into a run and chased the scavengers away.  One of the poor vultures was a bit too slow to get off the ground, however, and was taken down by the surprisingly energetic Kenge!  She went over to sniff the dying bird and the researchers wondered whether she would eat it.  It appeared that giraffe tastes much better than vulture though as she left it on the ground for Milo and Kwali to take a closer look.  None of the lions took much interest in it and decided to go back to the tasty giraffe.  As the researchers approached, they noticed the vulture was still breathing as it lay on the ground and hoped that it would not be in pain for much longer.

As the sun began to set over the release site, Phyre decided to return to her cubs after getting her fill from the carcass.  It was nice to see that Kwali has not given up her role as maternity nurse, as she was spotted following closely behind Phyre.

A Family Affair

16 06 2011

This morning (14th June) Nala, Narnia and Kwali were together in the Etosha area, the Ns having finished eating on the most recent kill that they made in the Amboseli area on a previous day.

Kwali started to move off north which prompted a playful reaction from Narnia.  Kwali however was apparently not in the mood and Narnia was given a clear indication of this.  Retreating from the encounter to rest next to her sister Nala, the 2N girls decided to watch Kwali head off into the distance, this time towards route 66 and the signal of Ashanti, Milo and Phyre.  Athena and AT1 were still near the carcass they were last seen feeding on in the Tree-Tops area whilst Kenge was on her own with her last carcass in The Valley.

By mid-morning the Ns had hooked up with Athena and AT1 to help polish off the remains of the carcass whilst Kenge, still on her own, was having to fend off rising numbers of vultures for what was left of her kill.

The remaining members of the pride were at Ashanti’s den site in Hwange.  Lionesses make little attempt to keep newborns isolated from contact with the rest of the pride and will readily allow pride members to enter the den as and when those lions pass through the area where the den is sited.  Kwali was found to be resting closest to the cubs whilst Ashanti interacted briefly with Phyre who was being given some time off from the marathon that is the lion mating process by a currently sleeping Milo.

Evidence so far suggests that Ashanti has three cubs, but given the distance from which we can observe and the thick undergrowth in which Ashanti has chosen her den site, it is impossible to confirm at the moment.

Biology 101: zebra + lion = wind

9 06 2011

We followed a weak telemetry signal into Ngamo today (7th June) and tracked down our pride in the Hwange area. Kenge, Ashanti and Kwali littered the road so we coursed our vehicle slowly around them through the grass to avoid disturbing them. As luck would have it our little diversion lead us to Phyre, Narnia, Milo, Athena and AT1 on a zebra kill, three days since their last.

Most of the lions present appeared comatose with only the occasional amusing burst of flatulence signaling life (not to worry, our research team doesn’t judge…).

The pride spent the rest of the day again passing to and fro between the carcass and a nearby water hole.

As most of the pride drank little AT1 took to the branches of a familiar tree.

Déjà vu set in upon our researcher and a little lump formed in her throat as she admired how much the little cub has grown since similar scenes were observed in February.

She may be small, but she has attitude!

6 06 2011

Today (5th June) We found most of the Ngamo pride polishing off the bones of yesterdays zebra kill.  The day was spent mostly passing between the dinner table and water hole one and by now all lions were verging on obesity!

However there was no sign of AT1 at the carcass. We have seen mother Athena tuck her little one away during a hunt and kill to remain out of harms way during the aggressive scuffles over meat then call for her to join once the pecking order has been established amongst the adults.

By the afternoon session most of the carcass had been consumed but there was still no sign of the cub. Eventually Athena moved off from feeding and began to call into the distance. We heard and then saw the rustling of grass from a nearby hillside followed by an elated little AT1 bounding over to her mum. Both greeted one another affectionately before Athena led her to the zebra carcass. AT1 proceeded to greet father Milo and squeeze in next to him over a few ribs. By now all the females had begun to head to the water hole and Athena also needed to quench her thirst. She began to call AT1 once again in hopes she would follow her but the little lioness was preoccupied with some juicy zebra meat.

So far we have seen Milo sharing his meals most tolerably with his daughter but it appeared she had caught him at a bad moment today. The growls grew and grew as AT1 pushed her luck and eventually Milo turned and appeared to give AT1 a warning nip on the head. In delight to our researcher though the little lioness showed how small can also be fierce and she fought back!

AT1 stood her ground and gave dad a good bat around the snout whilst ferociously spitting. Eventually both great and small called a truce and continued to feed together peacefully.

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