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…



17 01 2012


On 10th January Phyre, Kwali, Nala, Narnia, Ashanti, AT1, KE, KE3 and KE4 were all resting in Etosha.  Our researcher was disappointed to see Ashanti present again with the group as for the past few days she has been spending a lot of time with the pride, causing concern about the amount of time she is absent from her cubs in their den.  Hopefully she is returning to her den outside of our research hours, or during the night to feed her young.  Kenge, appearing to be a slightly more attentive mother, was resting nearby with KE3 and KE4 and the cubs suckled from Ashanti occasionally giving Kenge a bit of a break.

The pride spent the whole day lazing about except, that is, for KE3 and KE4 who were trying to get AT1 to join in with passing the time as the adults slept.  AT1 looked unsure of what to do as the cubs clambered over her and ran through her legs and she tried to pick up one of the pesky playmates in her mouth before they got away. Clearly uncomfortable with the whole situation, AT1 moved and sat a few metres away from them and let them continue making their own fun.  As the evening arrived the lions slowly started to wake.  Kenge stood up and began walking and slowly, one by one, the others followed.  Milo stayed behind for a few moments with his cubs but then shortly caught up with everyone.

The pride crossed the width of the site travelling though Serengeti East and Hwange before finally stopping in The Valley.  We were intrigued as to the reason for their long walk, perhaps they were hunting or looking for something, but when they finally came to rest it seemed that there was no obvious reason for the procession.  It could be that they were patrolling their territory or perhaps they just simply fancied a nice evening stroll but on this occasion it seems only the lions will know. 

The next day (11th January), following their long walk from the previous day, Phyre, Kwali, Nala, Narnia, AT1, Kenge, KE3&4 and Milo had all returned to Etosha.  At first sighting of the lions we were relieved to see that Ashanti was not present suggesting that she was at her den looking after her cubs but when we caught a glimpse of her in the long grass worry began to set in. But the worry was to be short-lived as right beside her were her two cubs; fit, healthy and suckling mum. 

AS4 and AS5 played alongside KE3 and KE4 even managing to hold their own when Kenge’s cubs, being that little bit bigger, threw their miniature weight around and forced the pride’s newest members into play fighting.  However it seems that Ashanti’s two cubs may not be the newest additions to the Ngamo pride for very long because, as suspected, Phyre is indeed pregnant, estimating that she may give birth in mid-February.  The Ngamo release site is soon to become the Ngamo crèche! 

As the day drew on and Ashanti had returned her cubs to their den, KE3 and KE4 moved on to AT1 for their entertainment.  Playing with AT1’s tail, much to her annoyance, she slapped at KE4….who bravely slapped her back! Meanwhile KE3 practiced her early hunting tactics by ‘stalking’ Kwali when she was not looking.  However KE3 was not as daring as KE4 and when she reached Kwali she merely gave her a friendly head rub. Not to worry, she has plenty of time yet.

By Thursday (12th January) the lions were beginning to get rather hungry, having last eaten 6 days ago.  After spending the majority of their day resting in Kruger on their favourite anthill, Phyre, Ashanti, Kwali, Kenge, Nala, Narnia, AT1 and Milo all made their way towards waterhole 1.  It wasn’t too long before they were running and we followed quickly behind them to find out the source of the excitement.  It was impala, grazing in Masai Mara.  Unfortunately before the lions could plan their attack something spooked the impala and they ran off in the direction of Serengeti West.  The pride, a bit perplexed at their chance of a meal escaping them continued to sit in Masai Mara which is where we left them for the day, hoping they may be more successful through the night. 

When AT1 met KE4 (you get KT5?)

14 01 2012

On Thursday (5 January) morning, as Milo wandered along Route 66, Phyre, Nala and AT1 were taking it easy relaxing in Serengeti East.  The hot weather was obviously taking its toll on the lions as they remained there all day long.  Nala however, always on the alert for a good hunt, mustered up the energy for a brief moment and stalked impala that were grazing in the near distance.  Having only relaxation on their minds, Phyre and AT1 continued to sleep through the whole episode and soon Nala returned to join them, giving up on breakfast. 

The next morning, Friday (6 January,) Nala roamed alone in Etosha, appearing to look lost.  It wasn’t too long before she met up with Narnia and unfortunately for Nala it appeared as if she may have missed out on a good meal as her sister rested in the shade with a very large belly.  On searching the site we eventually found what we expected in the dense woodland area of Treetops; a zebra kill currently being finished off by Milo with Ashanti waiting patiently in the wings.  Close by, resting under a bush near waterhole 3 lay a rather rotund Kenge with two tubby cubs confirming that they too had enjoyed a long-awaited meal.  By midday we had also spotted Phyre, Kwali and AT1 resting in Treetops with full bellies leaving only unlucky Nala missing out on the feast.  As the day drew in Kenge, who had now been joined by Ashanti, remained in her shady spot with KE3 and KE4.  A thirsty AT1 making her way to waterhole 3 passed them by, and on her return stopped inquisitively and watched KE3 and KE4 suckling mum.  As AT1 curiously approached Kenge, a similarly curious KE4 moved towards AT1 and greeted her with a mini head rub.  Excited by the possibility of a playmate KE4 attempted to play with AT1 but the young lioness seemed taken aback by the little lion and she moved away and sat nearby continuing to watch as KE3 and KE4 played together.  As Ashanti rose to her feet, so too did AT1 and the pair, leaving Kenge and her cubs resting, made their way towards Leopard Tree as the sun began to set.

On Saturday (7 January), after a very long search of the site we eventually came across Milo, Kenge and their cubs lying hidden in the shade of a tree in Etosha.  The very hot weather was obviously having no effect on KE3 and KE4 as they played together, even engaging in stalks and pounces on each other!  Seeing Milo resting nearby was just too much to resist and they approached their sleepy dad and attempted to include him in their fun.  But the grumpy male was in no mood for games and after a few warning snarls he, only gently, patted KE4 down with his paw leaving her startled for a moment.   KE3, not risking the same scolding, moved away from Milo and instead amused herself by playing with a stick.  Not too far away, also in Etosha, Phyre, Ashanti, Nala, Narnia, Kwali and AT1 all spent their afternoon lazing about in the hot sunshine, only moving to find themselves a cool shady spot to see out the day. 

A quiet start to the new year

11 01 2012

The New Year in Ngamo began with Nala and Narnia fast asleep in Etosha as Kenge and her cubs were resting in Serengeti East. It wasn’t long before Phyre arrived and as she drank KE3 and KE4 curiously followed her and watched the her quench her thirst.  Not being too keen on having an audience Phyre growled as she drank and the startled cubs returned to mum’s side where they watched from afar as Phyre took rest in some shade. 

The 2nd January was a very quiet day with the morning finding Narnia, Phyre, Ashanti, Kenge, Kwali and AT1 all resting in Etosha.  Milo and Nala, who were out for a bit of a morning stroll, later joined their fellow pride mates to see the day draw in.  The pride rested together in Etosha for most of the day and as the sun began to set they once again took to their paws and wandered along the boundary road towards Treetops.  AT1, playful and curious, livened up her evening walk by stalking guinea fowl along the way, distracting her and causing her to have to run to catch up with the rest of her pride. 

On Tuesday (3 January) morning we found Ashanti, her cubs and Kwali resting in the shade of a tree on the increasingly popular High Street South in Serengeti East.  Shortly after 7am AT1 was spotted in the long grass just behind the tree where Ashanti and Kwali lay.  After watching Ashanti’s cubs suckle from mum AT1 perhaps sensed that this was not the time for introductions and she made her way into the long grass out of sight.  By lunchtime Kenge and her two cubs had arrived and the idyllic spot at which they were resting was beginning to look like a crèche!  It was a beautiful sight as Ashanti and Kenge together with their respective cubs slept through the hottest part of the day. After their midday catnap; and while Ashanti was grooming her cub and Kenge’s cubs were suckling from her, Phyre and Narnia arrived. They too sensed that Ashanti would prefer some space and so after taking a drink from the small natural stream that runs through the rocks Phyre and Narnia sat in the shade looking on at Ashanti and her young.  Soon afterwards Nala and AT1 appeared and joined Narnia and Phyre in their shady spot. Narnia, seeing that Phyre and AT1 had the best spot under the tree, tried to squeeze in between the pair, much to Phyre’s audible annoyance.

By Wednesday (4th  Jan) it had been five days since the pride had made a significant kill, that of a wildebeest, and everyone was starting to get a bit peckish. Phyre, who was resting in Etosha with Ashanti and Kwali, spent most of her day watching birds, impala and even giraffe that were grazing in the treetops in neighboring land.  Kenge too, having some time away from her cubs, also seemed to be looking for something to eat and stalked zebra that were passing through Serengeti East.  Perhaps Kenge’s hunger level had not quite reached its peak, as the zebra passed by her as close as 20 metres without her making any attempt to chase.  Or perhaps it could just be that two energetic young lions are expending most of her energy and she decided that she would leave it to someone else to capture her next meal for her. 

Ashanti and her cubs join the pride after a long absence

3 01 2012

On Tuesday (27 December) morning we found Nala, Narnia and AT1 all resting in ever-popular Etosha.  Close by, in the shade of a large tree, lay a lioness and her cubs but to our joy the lioness in question was not Kenge, it was Ashanti and her two beautiful and healthy cubs, making a trip out to visit the pride for the very first time! It had been some time since we last saw Ashanti’s cubs, the last time being early December before Ashanti moved her den site to another secret location.   The two young cubs played together, tumbling over one another, all the while staying close to mum.  Ashanti, perhaps feeling that a brief morning visit was just long enough to have her young away from home, returned her cubs to the safety of their den and by midday she had come back to spend some time relaxing with the rest of the pride.

However it was now Kenge’s turn to bring along some new faces and she rested close by to Ashanti, Nala, Narnia, AT1 and Milo while KE3 and KE4 amused themselves with the natural toys they found lying about.  As the clouds rolled in and a thunder storm took hold an enormous thunderclap startled young KE3 and KE4 and they bolted off in different directions to escape the deafening sound, leaving Kenge not knowing which one to chase after first.

Later that day Kenge and her cubs moved on to Masai Mara where Milo was resting.  His peace and quiet was to be short-lived as KE3 and KE4 decided that dad was to be their new play thing.  The youngsters approached Milo, sneaking up behind him and nibbling on his tail.  They even managed to climb onto his back for a few moments, before he would turn quickly causing them to bounce off!  After a while of being used as a springboard Milo decided he had had enough and when he snarled at the two pestering playmates Kenge in turn snarled at Milo, protective of her naturally playful cubs.

On Wednesday (28 December) morning the whole pride, with the exception of the cubs, were resting in Kruger.  Just before midday a herd of impala made an unlucky decision to walk straight into the path of the Ngamo lions.  Phyre and AT1 rested on the path while the other pride members were taking shade in a nearby tree on the corner of Forest Drive. One unfortunate impala headed directly into the bush where a lioness was waiting and she pounced at the antelope missing it by inches.  As all the action happened just as our researcher approached the pride it is difficult to say which of our females made the first move, but we suspect it was Ashanti followed swiftly by Kwali and Kenge.  As the girls gave chase and we attempted to follow them into the dense area of Treetops the unmistakable sound of a feeding frenzy was heard.  Success! It was Kenge and Kwali who managed to get their claws in first and the pair made off into the bushes seizing the majority of the impala.  Narnia and Ashanti grabbed themselves a small portion but unlucky Nala, Phyre, AT1 and Milo were unfortunately left to go hungry.  AT1, not accustomed to missing out while dad is around, tried her very best creeping tactics as Ashanti ate her lunch, only to be swiped on the nose by the annoyed lioness.

Thursday (29 December) was a much more subdued day in Ngamo with Kwali, Kenge and her cubs resting at waterhole 1. As Kwali and Kenge slept off the action from yesterday lively KE3 and KE4 made their own fun, playing with branches and chewing on an old tree stump.

By late afternoon Kwali had moved on from her sister and joined Nala, Narnia, Phyre, and AT1 who were resting in Treetops.  Kwali, the low-ranking lioness who does not often get the best seat in the site, snuggled up to Narnia and Nala where they remained as the sun began to set.

Film: When Kenge introduced her cubs to the pride

8 12 2011

Film: Life in the Ngamo Pride

8 12 2011

Life in the Ngamo pride; a selection of footage taken over the past couple of months

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