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!


Ashanti found! and she is not alone…

12 11 2011

On Thursday (10 November) the lions were found resting in Etosha, being joined by Kenge shortly after the researchers arrived.  She walked cautiously out into the open, looking around her, stayed for a few minutes and then headed back in the direction of her den, only to reappear later on that morning.  It could be that she was hoping that the rest of the pride had made a kill because we have not seen her eat since 3 November, when Ashanti and Kwali killed a zebra in Tree Tops.  Having said that game counts report several missing impala so there is little chance that she has been going hungry.


We spotted Kenge again with the rest of the pride in the midday session, but again she soon left towards her den.  After half an hour we heard the unmistakable call of a dying zebra towards Kruger.  All the pride looked up and ran in that direction, with the research vehicle tailing behind them.  We found Kenge strangling a sub-adult zebra and the rest of the pride settling in for their lunch.  And there they remained for the rest of the day.


After all the action on Thursday, the lions had a bit of a lazy day on Friday (11 November).  They spent the majority of their time resting in Amboseli from the hot midday sun with the occasional slow trip to the waterhole and then back again.  However, by Saturday (12 November), the lions appeared to have regained some energy.  The researchers entered the site in the morning to find the whole pride, led by Ashanti and Kenge, hunting in Serengeti East.  They stalked herds of zebra, wildebeest and impala for over half an hour and walked almost the entire length of the release site trying (but failing) to catch some breakfast.  AT1 amused herself during this trip by climbing up a tree to get a better view of the prey.

As they walked in the direction of Kenge’s den, Kenge separated off from the rest of the pride and went back to attend to her cubs.  Ashanti lead everyone else towards waterhole three but bypassing the water and going on towards where we believe Ashanti has established a den; near leopard tree.  Ashanti went to her cubs, followed by Phyre, Milo and Kwali.  As the vegetation was very dense it was hard to see exactly what was going on, but it appeared as if Phyre had got a bit too close to Ashanti’s cubs.  Ashanti defended her offspring by growling and roaring ferociously at Phyre, who left shortly afterwards.  Kwali, being the special lioness that she is and with a friendly curiosity for new-born cubs, sat quietly by Ashanti’s side and rested, occasionally looking on to the new cubs and mother.  Narnia also came to have a look at the new additions to the Ngamo pride and then went back to Nala to give Ashanti some space.  The researchers also did not want to disturb Ashanti or her cubs any longer, so after getting visuals on what appear to be at least two fit and healthy cubs we left the pride contentedly resting in the shade.  These latest additions we believe bring the total pride to 1 adult male, 6 adult females, and we think 5 cubs but it could be 4, it could be more.




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.

Welcome three new members of the Ngamo Pride

4 10 2011

This morning (2 October) began with a slow start, with most of the pride found resting and very inactive (other than AT1 trying to unsuccessfully hunt pied crows) in Amboseli.  Kenge, Kwali and Phyre were not present, so the researchers left to search the rest of the site in the hope that they could find them.  About 15 minutes after leaving Amboseli they spotted Kenge resting apparently by herself on the side of the road down Route 66 in Hwange.  The researchers took data on her location and were just about to leave when they spotted another female lying about 10 metres from her behind a thicket.  They reversed the vehicle slowly to see which lioness this was.  It turned out to be Kwali, Kenge’s sister, who we could not locate yesterday (1 October).  As the researchers looked around the area they noticed another figure in the thicket by Kwali, and on closer inspection, it turned out to be Phyre – complete with at least three baby cubs!!!

The cubs, who were still a little wet and probably born during the night, were nursing a very happy and content Phyre, who was not at all disturbed by the quiet but extremely excited researchers being there.   However, we did not want to disturb the proud mother and her diligent bedside nurses, so left a few minutes after arriving to let Phyre attend to her precious cubs.  It was comforting to see that she was being well looked after by other lionesses.  Kwali has shown herself to be a great maternity nurse, as she also sat by other lionesses as they were due to give birth.  Kenge may too be curious about this fantastic process of life creation, as she is hopefully due to give birth within the next week or so.

Readers should note that the likelihood of all three of these new additions surviving are low.

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!

No Worries in Ngamo

18 06 2011

By now our lions were on the brink…of bursting. We drove through Ngamo on the 15th admiring the substantial collection of zebra skeletons the pride had collected recently to find Milo, Phyre, Kenge, Athena and AT1 on their 8th zebra kill in 2 weeks (one every 1.75 days, expected kill rate one every 1.8 days).

Our research team gawped at the prospect of where this meat could possibly be going yet all lions happily gorged themselves further on the fresh kill. In between feeding bouts Milo managed to burn off some calories by mating with both Phyre AND Kenge. As expected Kenge has once again has come into heat, approx 3 months since the loss of her litter in April. It appeared it really was good to be the king as Sir lay with his two beauties by a bountiful meal in the midday sun.

Meanwhile Ashanti and Kwali remained tucked away in the shade of the den in Hwange some 40m from the kill site. A visual on the 16th revealed all three observed cubs are mobile with beautiful big blue eyes now wide open.  (all cubs are born with blue eyes, changing to their adult colour around two months old)

Nala & Narnia were in light-hearted mood.  With the pride fat & flourishing its members can relax with no worries and waste some energy playing about with one another.


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.

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