Dangerous games

24 08 2011

The zebra in the Ngamo release site clearly like to live life on the wild side.   As the research team were observing the pride on Sunday (21st August) in the Amboseli region of the site they noticed 3 zebras in the near distance. The lions, fast asleep and snoring loudly, were completely unaware of their potential meal being so close by.  Slowly the zebra moved directly towards the sleeping lions, focused on the new shoots coming through from the fire.


With the wind in the lions favour, the team held their breath waiting for one of the lionesses to sit up and spot the zebra. But the zebra walked passed the lions within 40m of them and continued to graze on the other side without any of them noticing. After a while the zebra appeared to have enough of playing dangerous games and moved back past the lions towards waterhole one; once again the lions were completely oblivious to their presence.


Of course as soon as the zebras had moved on both Ashanti and Athena sat up and began grooming, whilst AT1 went over to greet Milo before Athena decided that it was time to give her daughter her daily bath.  Clearly it was the zebras lucky day.




Location, Location, Location

2 06 2011

Each time the lions are observed we take note of their location.  We do the same when we are able to confirm the location of a kill.

This first map shows where the lions have been spending their time.  We can see that unsurprisingly the three waterholes are favoured, especially waterhole two in the centre of the site.  So are locations that give a view into Antelope Park.  This is because plenty of prey species roaming around the Park are visible from the release site and was to be expected given the limited funding available to us to provide a larger release area and more plentiful prey within it.

We know that the lions often take a route from Amboseli to waterhole two and then in a diagonal path through Serengeti East, along the south of Hwange to get to The Valley area and this is reflected in the mapping.  The very open grass area of Masai Mara and Serengeti West and much of Hwange are frequented less due to the lack of shade in these areas.

Our second map shows known kill locations with symbols denoting the species killed at that location.  The big problem with this data is that for smaller animals, such as impala and duiker or steenbok we very rarely locate the kill site as the animal is consumed so quickly and very little remains afterwards.  These species are also most often found in the densest parts of the site and, presumably, are most likely killed in those areas as well, making it even harder to find any carcass. We know a kill has occurred because game counts tells us what animals are missing and of course the lions themselves are physically fatter and behaviorally lazier.  But where the kill took place is often unknown.  It is clear that the lions, as predators in fenced reserves do all over Africa, have been using the fence to assist in some instances.  When we find a kill site near a fence we always check the fence for signs of indentation to see whether the lions have driven the animal into the fence or used the fence as a way to cut off escape routes.  In most cases the latter is the case, although the use of the fence has definitely lessened over time, with more kills made in the centre of the site

Let sleeping cats lie!

23 03 2011

When discovering a pride of lions in the wild, such encounters are usually when the pride is at rest and relaxed; “poured out like honey in the sun” as Lindbergh put it in 1966.

Schaller noted that visitors often assume that this is because the pride is resting after a night prowling in search of prey; but that this is not quite accurate as lions spend most of the night resting as well.  Following a study of activity patterns in lions of the Serengeti he concluded that lions rest 20 – 21 hours a day; around 83- 87% of their life spent dormant.

A similar study is underway on the Ngamo release pride to discover whether their activity levels are common to wild lions within their protected semi-wild environment.

Having taken 3120 data points to date we marked each type of behaviour as either active or inactive.  The result for the whole pride shows that our lions are, in general, more active than expected; scoring 78% on the dormancy scale.  But what is interesting is the great variation between individual lions within the pride.

Laziest of the lot is Nala, Kenge and Milo.  Given the choice these three lions can be found passed out 83% of the time.  Narnia and Kwali are little better 82% and 81% respectively of their time spent asleep.

Slightly ahead of that is Athena coming in at a much more active 71% of her time in the land of nod.

And that leave us with Phyre & Ashanti.  Phyre managed a respectable 69% of her time asleep.  But the most active lion in the pride is Ashanti who, having been a playful lion her whole life spends only 66% of her time dreaming of whatever lions dream about.  Should we read anything into the fact that it is the three largest females in the pride that are the most active?

So if you were thinking, as I am sure many of you were, what life is like for an ALERT researcher studying the life and times of this pioneering lion pride?  Well, mostly it’s this! for hour after hour after hour…

Or as Craig Packer put it regarding his research in Tanzania “I had found lion research to be much less exciting than I’d expected – hours and hours of boredom punctuated by moments of sheer boredom, waiting for the lazy beasts to do something,”

But then of course the lions awaken from their slumber and march off into the distance.  The thrill is to ask where are they going? And what will they do when they get there?  That is the joy of watching wild animals in their natural environment; the chance to see those rarely glimpsed behaviours.

For your chance to experience following the pride visit the volunteer, intern and study pages on this very blog.

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