Ribs for mini-Milo

4 02 2012

Thanks to a fairly cool and damp night tracking the Ngamo pride the following morning was a doddle on the 31st. Our researcher and volunteers soon spotted fresh tracks, of all sizes, heading north towards water hole 1 and followed in pursuit. To no surprise we found the whole pride resting next to the lush water hole.

We’ve begun to notice that although crucial to cub development there appears to be some unfair suckling occurring within the little Ngamo crèche. On a daily basis we are observing Ashanti suckling all four cubs, often simultaneously and showing no signs of rebuffing Kenge’s cubs. Kenge on the other hand often puts little AS4 and 5 in their place when attempting to suckle her, and gives priority to her own cubs.

Allo-suckling is just one of the advantages cubs benefit from when within a crèche, however these incidents are more down to cheeky cubs stealing a free meal than a lioness feeling maternal towards the cubs of other mothers. As a result of her willingness to suckle all four cubs often Ashanti has begun to lose weight quite quickly. If she were to lose a drastic amount she would soon stop producing milk leaving her own two younger cubs in quite a predicament.   However, after contemplating this Ashanti and the pride put our researcher’s concerns to rest (yet again) as all were found on a demolished zebra kill on the 1st.  Only Milo, Ashanti, Kenge and cubs were still feeding whilst the others were presumed to have left to go and drink. Whilst Milo huffed and puffed over his meal mini-Milo (AS5) was fully enjoying having ribs for breakfast!

Eventually the pride regrouped by water hole 2 and we were very pleased to see KE3 and 4 have their fill from their own mother.


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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