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!





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…





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)





Phyre on fire

12 02 2012

Mothers Kenge and Ashanti have obviously had enough of their cub’s endless energy and, in need of break, left their cubs in a den on the 9th.  The females, free of interruptions from demanding cubs, slept soundly and undisturbed for most of the day before setting off upon their daily rounds in the late afternoon. Nala and Narnia lead the way south from the Kruger area into Etosha and all sleepily followed. However something suddenly woke Phyre up as she leapt in the air with a startled growl. Nala turned back to Phyre’s rescue to investigate the disturbance and bare her canines at whatever it was on the ground causing such a reaction. Eventually the lionesses lost interest and AT1 curiously approached too before catching up with the parade leading away. We pulled our vehicle up to where Phyre was given a shock, and where we suspected there was a snake of some sort.  We were bang on the money!  A 3-meter rock python spread out from his coils.  We’ve seen a few pythons in the release site over the past year and a half and although they are impressive they pose a serious threat to young cubs.  It’s therefore great to see the caution the lionesses use when approaching these monster snakes.

The 10th started off with a spark and ended with a bang for the pride. We found the females moving through Serengeti East towards water hole 2 in pursuit of a large impala herd. The females, downwind, formed a perfect linear formation, hidden in the tall grass, some 100m from the herd and watched intently their prey’s movements.  Unfortunately the herd began to move further off towards water hole 1 and the lionesses obviously felt this time the odds were against them and took to some nearby acacia’s to sleep. However unbeknown to them a very young impala calf had been left by their mother some 70m from the pride. We watched with baited breath the entire day as the calf continuously rose and broke its cover, yet no lions spotted it.

By the afternoon we could no longer see the calf and the pride began to move off south along Route 66 with Kenge leading. As Kenge passed through an area of very tall grass Nala took up the rear and suddenly began to stalk. We spotted a lone impala, which we presumed to be the calf’s mother in the area and it seemed Nala was hot on her case. Then out of nowhere Nala and Phyre shot like a bullet over the open grass of the Camp area in pursuit of the previously seen impala calf!  The calf circled frantically trying to out run the hungry lionesses but all in vain. Phyre closed in upon the little lamb and grabbed it by the neck. She then sprinted away from the other startled pride members but Ashanti, Kenge and Kwali were not about to let a potential mouthful go to waste. The females scuffled momentarily over the catch and Kenge, Kwali, Ashanti and Phyre all managed to split the calf adequately. Most surprising was Milo’s reaction. He jogged over to the girls but rather than throwing his weight around as usual for a bite he merely sniffed at those with meat and moved off to wait until they had finished!

To no ones surprise not even a hoof was left for the rest of pride. By the time the lucky females began to clean themselves up the mini-Ngamo pride arrived. KE3, KE4, AS4 and AS5 ran frantically to Kenge and began to lick the blood from her whiskers. They had obviously heard the commotion and braved leaving the den alone in hopes of catching a meaty meal. However they had to make do with another milk-based dinner from Ashanti.

All must have been grateful for Phyre’s quick thinking and moves!





Monkey-ing around

31 01 2012

We arrived in Ngamo bright and early on the 25th finding Milo fast asleep, as per usual, in Amboseli. After jotting down some coordinates and other data we proceeded along route 66 searching for any signs of the lionesses. Luckily for us we were met with Kenge sprawled out upon the road, surrounded by four sleepy cubs. With no sign of the other females we presumed Kenge had been designated baby-sitter for the morning and was doing a splendid job.

Soon the January rains began to roll in over Ngamo. AS4 and AS5 bounced into the long grass for shelter and were soon followed by KE3 and KE4.

After a good soaking the rain began to ease up and this sent the cubs into a whirlwind of energy. Kenge looked on as AS5 shimmied some 3m up a nearby tree. KE3 soon could not resist the temptation of little AS5’s tail dangling and proceed to clamber up after him for a good tug. This monkey-ing around continued throughout the morning session until all cubs were adequately tired out.

By the afternoon we were struggling to find the rest of the pride. We trawled through Kruger, Tree Tops and the Valley to no avail when suddenly our researcher spotted a flash of gold racing through the undergrowth of Hwange. We soon caught up with the commotion to find Ashanti holding a baby impala between her jaws. AT1 and Kwali were following closely behind but kept a respectable distance from the hungry mother. Ashanti then settled down under a nearby bush and tucked into her well-earned snack. After a mere 10mins it was as if the impala had not even touch the sides! Ashanti moved off after cleaning up any crumbs and left poor AT1 sniffing somberly at the ground.

On the 27th we rolled once again along route 66 this time to find Ashanti with her brood accompanied by Phyre and AT1. Whilst the adults and AT1 slept AS4 and AS5 tumbled around with one another before breaking for breakfast. However Ashanti was not at all impressed with her cub’s brazened approach to suckle and repositioned. It wasn’t long before AS5 announced his protests very loudly and incessantly to this. His efforts however proved most successful and Ashanti rolled onto her back offering a meal for the two cubs.

At lunchtime we thought we were in for the ultimate chase and catch scene. Kwali and Kenge were located by water hole 2 vigilant to a large herd of impala. Kenge appeared to flank left around the water hole into the long grass whilst Kwali held fire in the small thicket some 50m from the herd. After TWO HOURS of watching, poised over binoculars it appeared Kenge might have gotten side tracked with other engagements leaving poor Kwali stuck in the thicket. Although a fantastic huntress there was a good 30m of open space for Kwali to somehow pass through without being seen. Eventually Kwali settled down and the herd began to move off further into Serengeti East.

We returned in the afternoon in high hopes of further hunting but Kwali, obviously fed up with hunting in the midday sun went and settled alongside Ashanti and co. Once again AS4 and AS5 provided some comedy gold for our research team climbing more trees and pulling more tails. It is beginning to seem that AS4 is the most confident and boisterous of the two. She decided to launch an all-mighty attack on her brother. These two youngsters will no doubt be causing more chaos for the pride as they grow more and more confident.





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.








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