Telepathy or coincidence?

8 03 2012

The 7th of March was D-Day for our research team, lion’s manager and one particular Ngamo lioness; Phyre.  Following the loss of two litters of cubs in quick succession we have decided to fit Phyre with a contraceptive to give her body an opportunity to recover from the rigours of pregnancy.  We are also aware that should she conceive again when she next comes into oestrus that the chances of a litter surviving in a pride with already five much older cubs would be greatly reduced.  The contraceptive will last only 18 months, and can be removed earlier if needed.  Phyre will then be able to resume oestrus cycling and take a third (hopefully lucky) attempt at motherhood.  By this time we would also hope that the other five cubs would be ready to move on to a release into the wild making room in the pride (and site) for Phyre’s cubs.

The procedure, fairly straightforward and quick, requires the lioness to be sedated for a short period of time while the minute implant is placed between the shoulder blades. We were able to also able to tackle another issue that needed attention by removing Phyre’s collar, which has been in need of refurbishment.  She will receive a new one next time she needs to be darted, although that could be quite some time.

So, early morning on the 7th our researcher set off to find the Ngamo pride, and more specifically Phyre, so that we knew her whereabouts ready for when the vet arrived. As mentioned in previous blogs, finding the lions can often prove troublesome as the batteries on the collars are starting to, or already have run out.  Narnia, Kenge, AT1 and the four youngest cubs were found upon Route 66, but giving up no clues as to Phyre’s whereabouts. Milo also was keeping silent on the matter whilst alone in Maasai Mara.  By 09:15 the research crew needed to head back to camp to liaise with the lion’s manager and vet to discuss the mission at hand having failed at the early morning task.

At 10:15 the research team, along with the vet and a loaded dart gun, headed back into the site to search further for the missing Phyre. Our lion’s manager kept a watchful eye out in the back of the vehicle as our researcher meandered back and forth along road after road. Again, Milo, Narnia, Kenge, AT1 and cubs were spotted but there was still no sign of Kwali, Nala, Ashanti or Phyre.

By 11:30 our researcher decided to head down a little used 2-track in the Hwange area, close to where Ashanti had denned when her cubs were first born. Like lions in the wild, and other large mammals, the Ngamo pride often use roads and game paths to get about. They provide not only an easier route without the hassle of tall grass and bushes but also create good visuals of any potential game.  Once the midday heat kicks in the lions will usually flank away into the grass or scrub near the path for shade.  They are observed away from this route network when they have made a kill or are denning with newborns in a thicket. We were therefore very surprised when our lion’s manager luckily spotted the 4 missing lionesses sat deep in the thick grass far, far away from the two track!  Comments had been passed around the camp that perhaps Phyre and the girls knew our agenda – in jest, of course – and finding them so far from usual hangouts must have been coincidence, right? As we obtained a better view we could see Phyre sitting at the back of the group amidst the thick foliage and thorns of an acacia bush. Both Nala and Ashanti were positioned perfectly in front of Phyre blocking any chance of a clear shot – coincidence again?

After a while the lions went on the move, with the entire pride meeting up and repositioning in the Etosha area, luckily for us an area of short grass and few bushes. Just as our vet took aim Nala once again moved to slap bang in front of Phyre who was resting in the shade of a weedy mopane tree. We changed our vehicle position to enable the vet to get a shot. When it came it was a quick, clear, accurate shot into Phyre’s shoulder.

Despite the loud snap of the dart gun and nasty pinch from the dart Phyre fled only a few meters before the sedative began to take effect, whilst the rest of the pride moved off further.  Phyre began to stumble and sway before slowly laying down and falling unconscious.   As soon as it had been confirmed she was lights out (and the rest of the pride was not returning) our experienced lion handlers placed Phyre onto a stretcher and onto the back of a vehicle and quickly whisked her away to the nearby management pens where we could work on her safely.

Once inside the pen our vet began to insert the contraceptive implant. Our lion’s manager gave her a quick health check, including using a thermometer in a place that would make any person or lion normally cringe, and our researcher took some important body measurements. By now Phyre had been unconscious for 10mins – any longer than 30mins and complications could arise. Once all had been inserted, prodded, measured and tested Phyre was given a reversal to the sedative and all staff moved safely out of the pen in good time.

After a tense 10 minutes Phyre awoke rather groggy but non-the-worse for the experience and made her way back through the open gate into the release site.

By the afternoon Phyre had rejoined the pride. Her missing collar appeared to attract minimal attention though both Kenge and Ashanti assisted in giving the once hard to reach spot a good clean.  All-in-all the darting was a complete success but it has left our researcher questioning the Ngamo lionesses telepathic capabilities…


The clouds roll in; the girls rolls out…

28 02 2011

A fairly slow day in Ngamo but we did manage to catch up with most of the pride. Unfortunately the hot and sunny weather has left once again to leave behind cold clouds and drizzle. As our team piled on the layers this morning our sympathies went out to a damp Milo sat alone in the chilly breeze!

The clouds parted as the day progressed to cast a ray or two upon five girls gathering in the Serengeti area.  Most of the session was spent watching Phyre and Ashanti pamper one another.

In the afternoon we managed to spot Athena resting close by to where Kenge is currently denning with her two cubs. We noted Athena leaving her den yesterday evening to presumably catch up with her pride mates, but perhaps the little squeaks and growls of Kenge’s spotted twosome caught her curiosity.

On our way out of the site we bumped into the five girls again, this time full of energy and on the move. We will find out where they were headed for in morning!

Paws for thought

27 02 2011


The mating between Milo and Phyre has continued unabated, although Phyre was given some minutes off amidst all this activity to maybe reflect on all the events of the past week.

Whilst Athena and her cub remain in the same location but out of sight near to waterhole two, Kenge has now brought her two cubs to the same area, maybe 50 – 60 metres from Athena.

The rest of the pride having spent most of the day on the other side of the site returned now and then to the waterhole two area and were allowed close to Kenge, but not too close to the cubs lest they receive some bared teeth from our newest mother.

Kenge’s cubs seem to be quite mobile and have opened their eyes.  She seems to be caring well for their every need.

Milo is a busy boy!

24 02 2011


Athena has moved, presumably with her cub(s) nearer to waterhole 2 and is now residing in a new dense thicket.  Kenge, who has not been seen for several days now and is assumed to have denned to produce her litter has chosen an even denser thicket in the Masai Mara area not far from waterhole one.

And what of the rest of the pride?  Well they are, shall we say, busy.  Yesterday morning they were in the Etosha area before moving eastwards into Kruger for the afternoon.  Milo concentrated on mating with Phyre whilst the Ns watched. 

By this morning Kwali, Ashanti and Milo were back in Etosha with Milo getting it on with Ashanti before he headed to Hwange to meet up with Phyre again.  The Ns on the other hand were in Masai Mara.  Later in the day Kwali and Ashanti joined Milo and Phyre who were still mating, whilst the Ns moved to Amboseli. 

So at least one cub born, more about to be born, or already have, and Milo getting friendly with two more females.  The pride is growing.

For those who think all these place names are meaningless, we have posted a map of the in the right hand bar to refer to.  Just clock on the icon for a larger version.

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