Bullying in the playground

20 03 2012


Our researcher has felt quite sorry for AT1 at times since the arrival of the new cubs.  Often she has been observed watching her younger siblings play with a look of bemusement on her face. As we know AT1 lost the two siblings of her litter early on in life and never had other cubs to play and interact with whilst growing up in Ngamo. Nala and Narnia pitched in as fantastic playmates whilst she was a youngster but this was never quite the same as playing with peers.

However over the past few days it seems AT1 has been reminded she is still very much a cub and not quite yet a lioness. Rather than proving her maturity amongst the pride AT1 has been throwing her weight around with the cubs.

On the 13th those in the research vehicle were in fits of laughter as AT1 battled with a dead, weedy tree before winning a tough match of tug-of-war over a stick with KE3. KE4 and AS4 looked on with their own sticks giving them a good chew but AT1 was having none of this and demanded all sticks be within her possession. Proving to be the real bully of the playground AT1 proceeded to steal the sticks from the cubs and wrestle AS5 to the ground on the way. The little male however made sure his thoughts on AT1’s foolhardy behaviour was known as he gave her a firm bite on the nose.

On the 15th we saw some further bullying but this time amongst the lionesses. As AT1 frolicked about further with her mini gang Ashanti moved off for a grooming session with Phyre. Both appeared in social heaven as they licked one another’s faces and quickly caught the attention of Kwali. Kwali sauntered over to join the love-fest but as she approached Ashanti flattened her ears and began to growl. Kwali gently bent down to greet Phyre but was met instead by a forceful paw in the face from Ashanti. Never one to argue, Kwali backed down close by and watched the two females groom feeling somewhat rejected!



11 03 2012

We’ve thoroughly enjoyed observing Ashanti’s little girl and boy more and more with the pride recently. They, along with KE3 and KE4 have been milling around the pride on a daily basis and igniting a playful mood in AT1.

There were no cubs spotted on the morning on the 9th however, which was a blessing in disguise as the females spotted a small herd of impala in the Valley area and got straight to work. The Valley, Hwange and Tree Tops areas managed to escape the bush fire that swept through in Ngamo last year allowing the grass to tower and thicken. An impala ram was seen over looking the ocean of grass from a tall termite mound keeping a watchful eye out over his harem of females. We tried our best to maintain a visual of the females from the road with binoculars poised but the grass was impossible to see through. Our researcher placed her binoculars down and decided the sit and listen intently. Sure enough the sound of fleeing impala was soon heard and Kwali was seen chasing the ram and his females along the boundary road but sadly they managed to escape into the grass.

On the 10th we found the pride had relocated in the Camp area. We’ve noticed over the past few months the pride, especially the females, are roaring less and less. This is perfectly normal behaviour with young cubs now a part of the pride. Whilst roaring is a vital component of territorial defense lionesses will not advertise their presence nor challenge intruders if there are young cubs present incase a conflict were to occur putting the cubs at risk. However Milo has been noted to advertise his territory on occasion still and one particular bout certainly caught the attention of one of his girls. Our researcher was shocked to hear a ferociously deep mini-roar bellow from a nearby bush where both KE3 and 4 were resting by mother Kenge. Even Kenge appeared quite taken a-back by the cubs vocalization. Although we could not see which cubs specifically piped up our researcher put an educated guess upon KE3 who so far has shown to be the most boisterous and noisy of the two sisters.

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!

The social life of AT1

17 02 2012

At nearly 13 months old young AT1 is a well-established member of the Ngamo pride, but who does she appear to be closest to?  And what does she make of these youngsters running around the place?

Sometimes AT1 can be found with the adults

And sometimes with the cubs

We took a look at who her nearest neighbour has been when the pride is observed since the beginning of the year.  Dad is obviously a little daunting for AT1 and he ranks lowest of the adults as the lion she is most likely to be closest to.  She is also clearly avoiding the current mothers of the group (Ashanti and Kenge) who at this time are highly protective of their cubs, and occasionally very grouchy, especially when they have sharp teeth clamped to their teats.  Former favourite Narnia has dropped down the list below aunt Kwali.  In second place is Nala with Phyre her most frequent nearest neighbour. AT1 has clearly understood which side her bread is buttered and is sticking close to the alpha female of the pride, although that situation is likely to change when Phyre too becomes a mother (expected) in the near future.  This pattern is also mirrored when looking at which lions AT1 greets most often.  As for which lions greet AT1; its Narnia, a lowly lion in the pecking order of the Ngamo pride, that most frequently greets our young lioness.

And there is clear favouritism between AT1 and the other cubs of the pride as well.  The interactions between AT1 and KE4 and AS4 are few and far between, although both will occasionally entice a play bout.  Young male AS5 comes second, but is least likely of the four cubs to start a play session with AT1, preferring to tackle smaller adversaries.

AT1 and KE3 however seem to have a little love affair going on.  AT1 is found with KE3 as her nearest neighbour more than the combined number of times she is found nearest any other cub.  And the number of social interactions between the pair are double than those with any other.

Occasionally it can all get a bit much, especially when the youngest members of the pride come in numbers.

And so, like any young lady, our precious AT1 finds a quiet spot away from all the others: just to be on her own with her thoughts (probably about what is for dinner)

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.

A Son for Milo

30 01 2012

On Sunday (22nd January) morning the whole Ngamo pride were all resting together at waterhole 1.  As Ashanti and Nala watched impala grazing through bushes in the distance AS4 and AS5 were playing close by together with KE3 and KE4. Ever since Ashanti began introducing her two young cubs to the pride our Researcher has been avidly trying to determine the sexes of our two newest additions and today it was finally confirmed.  It is not such an easy task to perform as their little rears and tails move around so often but it appears that, after a spell of all female cubs being born in the site, including AS4, Milo finally has a son! AS5 is a beautiful boy and we are sure he will grow up to be every bit as handsome as his dad.

As midday arrived and Ashanti, Kenge, Phyre and AT1 continued to sleep off yesterday’s big meal Kwali, Nala and Narnia still found the energy to watch and stalk impala and zebra that were wandering through Masai Mara, completely unaware of their spectators.  Luckily for the zebra and impala however just watching was about all the girls would be doing today as they soon lost interest in the herd ahead of them and returned to laze with the rest of their pride members, rising occasionally for a quick drink before returning to flop all over each other where they slept until the sun began to set.

Monday (23rd January) was another lazy day in Ngamo and on entering the site in the morning we found Nala, Narnia, AT1, Phyre, Ashanti and Kwali continuing to rest in Masai Mara not very far from waterhole 1 indicating that they probably had quite a lazy night too.  By mid-morning they finally began to rise and with Ashanti leading the way Phyre, Narnia, Nala, Kwali and AT1 all went for a stroll through Masai Mara towards Serengeti West.  The reason for their procession was soon apparent as they stopped at the old remains of Friday’s zebra carcass and began to chew at the bones for the last scraps they could find.  Meanwhile Kenge, KE3 and KE4 remained at waterhole 1 where they stayed for the rest of the afternoon.  As the day drew to an end Milo, who had so far not been seen today, appeared walking from Serengeti East towards Etosha where Kenge and their cubs were now playing.  It was only a fleeting visit from dad and although he sat with Kenge for just a short while it still gave his cubs enough time to excitedly clamber all over him before he began to lose his patience and he rose once again and walked away into the sun.

On Tuesday (24th January) it was our younger pride members that kept us entertained as while Milo, Narnia, Phyre, Ashanti, Kwali, Kenge and AT1 all spent their day resting in Etosha,  KE3, KE4, AS4 and AS5 made their own fun playing and chewing on twigs and branches.  It was not too long before AT1 joined in their fun but just as she was beginning to settle into a bit of play fighting with AS4 she opened her mouth and bit softly at the lively cub.  Well at least she thought she bit AS4, to her total surprise she had accidentally bitten Ashanti on the nose!  Realising her mistake she quickly stood up looking quite startled at herself and moved away before Ashanti could react to the young lioness’ playful advances.   By early evening our young cubs were still full of energy and were practicing techniques that will help them hunt in the future.  As they stalked and ankle-tapped each other the four little lions were gaining more and more confidence as they strayed a bit further away from mum chasing each other and rolling through the grass.  Of course it doesn’t matter how much fun they seem to have play-fighting, nothing seems so much fun as climbing a tree and while Ashanti relaxed as the sun began to set on Ngamo AS5 showed off his climbing skills to a very proud mum indeed.

Happy first birthday to AT1

29 01 2012

On Thursday (19th January) morning as we entered the site we found Phyre, AT1, Nala, Narnia and Milo all relaxing on Route 66 in Masai Mara.  It was a peaceful morning until all of a sudden we caught sight of impala and zebra running through Amboseli.  It was the unmistakable scurry that comes with being chased and after a few moments we soon saw the reason for the panic as Ashanti bound behind the herd at full pace.  We too joined the chase but, just as we were getting our hopes up, the herd escaped the clutches of Ashanti and she retreated realising they had gained too much distance for her to keep up.  Just as our excitement levels began to settle we were off again but this time it was Kwali causing the commotion, flanking the herd from the opposite direction.  Kenge was also out for a spot of morning hunting and, hanging back slightly, she watched intently as her sister took her turn to give chase.  Unfortunately, despite Kwali’s best efforts she too was unable to make up the distance and, for at least today, she and the hungry mums would have to do without breakfast.

Friday 20th January and a very special little lion turned one year old today. Happy birthday AT1!  By now the lions were more than ready for a meal and as the sun began to warm the day Phyre, Kenge, Nala, Narnia together with the birthday girl all took a stroll along Route 66 in search of prey.  Ashanti and Kwali were resting together in Serengeti East and as the girls made their way along the road they all came together and continued their search.  It was not before long that Kwali seemed to pick up on a scent and she walked briskly, visibly switching into hunting mode.  The rest of the girls, seeing Kwali become so alert, also followed and they made their way deeper into Serengeti East.  Phyre soon took the lead and began to run and as she did Nala and Kenge flanked to the left and hid amongst trees, all the while our Researcher unaware of what it was they were hunting.  As they all made their way through Hwange and as they neared the boundary we soon saw the reason for their excitement but alas the lions would have no success again today.  The girls resorted to their second favourite pastime and slept through the afternoon, only stirring as the sun began to set and bringing with it a rather busy period of grooming and licking, reaffirming the strong bond our pride females all have with each other.

On Saturday (21st January) morning the pride’s wait for a good meal was over as Milo, Phyre and Kenge were in Masai Mara at a zebra kill.  Nala, Narnia, Kwali, Ashanti and AT1 were spotted in the near distance having had their fill and carrying their fat bellies to rest at waterhole 1.  After a quick drink Nala, Narnia and Ashanti made their way towards Etosha, quite possibly for Ashanti to meet up with her cubs who we had seen earlier hiding in the safety of the long grass.  By mid-morning KE3 and KE4 had joined mum and dad at the zebra carcass.  Milo was being his usual greedy self and clutching on to the carcass while resting.  Although even our dominant pride male has a soft side for his offspring and, as he has done previously with AT1, he allowed only KE3 to eat from his claimed meal, growling at Phyre as she got closer to him and his cub.

By the afternoon Kenge, presuming Milo must be ready to give up his hold on the carcass by now, made her way over to eat but as usual Milo was still not willing to share and he and Kenge fought with Milo biting into Kenge’s back as she grabbed hold of the carcass.  The tussle frightened little KE3 and KE4 and they ran away looking on at mum and dad and crying out.   A few minutes later Kenge, realising the last few mouthfuls were not worth the trouble, gave up her hold on the zebra and she returned to her young cubs reassuring them with a mini head rub that all was well as the day came to an end.

These images have been taken by photographic volunteer Carole Deschuymere.  If you would like the opportunity to be in her position to get photos such as these, then visit our volunteer page and click on the link “Wildlife Photography” listed under Antelope Park.

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