How the Ngamo pride celebrated Halloween (not for the feint hearted!)

1 11 2011

The day started off with a bang on Sunday (30 October) with the researchers entering the site in the early morning to see Nala and Narnia chasing a herd of zebra.  Within moments Narnia brought a juvenile down and Nala took the stranglehold position at the neck.  It was a thrilling experience to see the lionesses do what they do best and with such prowess.  The zebra called out and tried to kick as Narnia started to bite into the abdomen, which signalled to the rest of the pride that they had been successful in their hunt.  Quickly the other lions came trotting along to help the N sisters with their breakfast.  The pride ate without much argument, with Milo coming in for a quick bite to eat of the intestine.  The researchers were grossed out to see him suck up the bowels like spaghetti!  Even AT1 managed to squeeze in between Nala and Kwali to fill her belly with zebra meat.  After they had finished eating, AT1 sat down to rest next to the carcass and Nala laid her head on top of AT1’s belly.  AT1 then cupped her forepaws around Nala’s head, giving it a squeeze.

Later on in the day, Kenge was spotted walking around in Kruger looking quite nervous.  We then spotted one of her little cubs next to a termite mound, which we presume to be Kenge’s new den site.  We did not want to disturb the mother with her precious offspring so left shortly afterwards.

Monday (31 October) proved to be a difficult day to find the lions.  We were only able to locate Nala and Narnia during the entire day, which suggested that the rest of the pride were hidden away in some tall grass either resting or feeding from a concealed carcass.  Nala and Narnia spent the entire day either hunting or feeding from a pregnant impala that they caught in between the morning and midday session.  Very aptly for it being Halloween, the sisters ate gruesomely, sucking out the eyeballs from the skull and biting into the head to get to the brains.  They also found a small but well-formed foetus in the womb of the impala, which pleased Narnia greatly as she dived in for the tiny treat and started to play with it like a cat over a dead mouse.  It seemed as if the brutal killers were not even that hungry, as they spent most of the midday session playing with their food rather than eating.  One could even conclude that these lions have become just too good at hunting!

By Tuesday (1 November) Nala and Narnia were not content with the previous day’s hunts and spent the entire morning chasing after any game that they could see.  At one point, Narnia was surrounded by wildebeest, impala and zebra and looked as if she couldn’t decide which prey to go for as she was spoiled for choice!  We half expected to come back in the midday session to see them on a kill again, but found the entire pride resting by waterhole two feeding on the remains of the impala carcass from yesterday.  Even Kenge showed her face for a short while as she gnawed on a leg-bone and drank at the waterhole.  She then left back in the direction of her den after midday.

After Phyre got up from eating part of the carcass to go for a quick drink, she was surprised to see that sneaky AT1 had taken control of her lunch whilst she had left it unattended.  Phyre tried to get it back, but brave AT1 snarled and growled at her, retaining her stolen lunch completely for herself.  We were quite impressed at AT1’s ability to hold her own against the most dominant female of the pride, which shows that this little cub may well grow up to be a very dominant female herself!



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.

Has Phyre left the pride to make a den?

3 10 2011

Sisters can sometimes quarrel with each other, fighting for attention or dominance.  However, this has never seemed to be a problem with twins Nala and Narnia, as they are practically glued at the hip.  It is rarer to see the N’s apart than together – in fact, they spend most of the day within a metre of each other.  Lately they have been strengthening this sisterly bond through intense, long grooming sessions; sometimes lasting for 10 or more minutes.  As both lionesses are low in the ranks of the pride they are not often groomed by the other more senior members of the group, so is it nice to see that they look out for each other in this respect.

The N’s are also the most playful of the adult lions; they make great aunties for AT1.  Lately, the cub has been practising her stalking techniques out on the sleeping Nala.  On Friday (30 September) AT1 was seen tactfully using the cover of a small shrub to sneak up on the unaware lioness and pounce on her head!  Most members of the group would be rather annoyed about being woken up from their slumber in this way, but being such a fantastic aunt that she is, Nala gave back as good as she got, as she play-bit AT1 and biffed her gently in a pretend fight.

The researchers have been getting excited these past few days.  Probably-pregnant Phyre and Kenge were found early in the morning resting together by themselves in Hwange on Friday (30 September), but when the researchers came back to see them just before leaving the site for breakfast, they could not locate them.  In fact, both lionesses escaped their radar for the rest of the day.  It was assumed that maybe the lionesses have decided to go and find a den to have cubs; both females are right in the window for expected gestation length to give birth at any time now, if they did in fact successfully conceive..  However, by Saturday morning (1 October) Kenge was spotted walking up Route 66 behind Nala and AT1.  It seems like she has decided that it’s not quite the right time for her to den just yet, but as Phyre was still absent for the entire day, the researchers hope that she has found herself a nice and secluded spot to give birth.   Watch this space!

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.


Daddy’s girl

21 04 2011

Our newest member to Ngamo never ceases to entertain our research team. Once again we found our elder pride members trying their best to sleep whilst AT1 (Athena’s cub’s assigned code for data purposes) amused herself with rocks, mum’s tail and Kwali’s paw.

As the day progressed we saw the little cub leap and bound around the Ngamo release site following the pride. Each day our pride covers a substantial distance and these brisk patrols can often be hard for little legs to keep up with. Sensibly AT1 took her time and gave herself plenty of breaks along the way, obviously taking after her father. We observed Milo also taking his time (as usual!) and while the pair lagged behind the lionesses, father and daughter took the opportunity to bond. AT1 lavished affection upon dad like a true daddy’s girl, and Milo returned the gesture with some gentle head rubs.

He did not appreciate however a sneaky nip to the hind and flashed his huge canines to AT1 in disapproval.

In the afternoon AT1 got another lesson in impala hunting. Whilst following Athena and the others into the Etosha area the lionesses soon became vigilant to a large herd of impala. Nala and Narnia flanked left into the grass while Kenge and Kwali took up the rear of the herd. Athena also disappeared into the bush leaving AT1 under the paternal guidance of Milo. Both watched intently from the road when 3 lionesses suddenly burst out of the grass chasing…! A rabbit… Milo also took chase frightening little AT1 and she bolted in the opposite direction for safety.

The females, after failing to catch bugs bunny, began to move off further towards water hole 1 leaving AT1 behind in Etosha. Athena was nowhere to be seen and AT1 was becoming concerned. By now dad had left her unattended and the sun was beginning to set-where was mum??

AT1 ran along the road calling as loudly as she could but with no sign of Athena still. She eventually moved into the towering sea of grass with only her piercing cries indicating her whereabouts. After 15mins our team spotted Athena staring intently across the plains for her cub listening to her cries. She began to glide through the grass until she melted into the gold. Silence fell and by now our team couldn’t bare the suspense. Finally we spotted mother and daughter reunited and begin to head off to join up with the rest of the pride.

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