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!


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)

Lion cubs at play

24 11 2011

Arrival in Ngamo on Saturday morning (19 Nov) finds most of the pride resting in Treetops, all with huge bellies and bloodstained faces suggesting they have eaten well in the early hours of the morning.  Kwali was found eating the little that remained of the zebra, that is until Milo arrived and she had to give up her space and let him eat.   As the heat of the day made it’s way in, the pride moved to rest in what seems to be one of their favourite spots between Kruger and Treetops where they remained for most of the day.  A walk to waterhole 3 in the afternoon turned out to be quite a get-together as new mothers Kenge and Ashanti both take some time away from their offspring to socialise with their fellow pride members.

Sunday (20 Nov), and AT1 turns 10 months old! Her developing confidence is becoming more noticeable as she more regularly sits further away from the other pride members and often goes missing for large parts of the day, perhaps resting with Ashanti at her den or off on a mini adventure of her own.  However she always rejoins the group by early evening resulting in lots of excited greetings and play activity with her two favourite playmates of the moment, Nala and Narnia.

On Wednesday morning, after two rainy days, the pride are quite active and they walk almost the entire length of the site, perhaps with hunting on their minds.  Returning to the lions in the afternoon confirms the suspicion about the pride being hungry as our researcher finds Milo eating a recently killed wildebeest and the whole pride, minus Ashanti, all resting in Etosha with full bellies.  As Milo continues to eat, nearby Kenge calls and walks into the long grass.  She re-emerges with her two bundles of joy, audibly calling back to mum.  Kenge rests near to Milo as he eats and KE3 and KE4 begin suckling.  Nala, Narnia, Phyre, Kwali and AT1 don’t appear to share in the excitement of their arrival, barely raising their heads as the cubs wander around in the long grass.  As Milo lets out a roar a surprised KE3 stopped suddenly, stared wide-eyed at dad in clear surprise at the noise he is making, before turning and toddling off into the long grass for safety.  Kenge is proving she is an excellent mother being extremely attentive and not taking her eyes or ears away from her young cubs for a moment.

AT1 goes a hunting

18 11 2011

After the short burst of cub activity when Kenge introduced her offspring to the pride on 14 November, both Kenge and Ashanti have been keeping themselves and their respective families to themselves; although Kwali seems to be a regular visitor to Ashanti’s den.  But given that our researchers only spend around six hours of each day, in 3 x 2 hour blocks, with the lions there will be many events that go unseen by us.  Further cub integration and hunting may be among these events.  There appears to have been some sneaky hunts taking place over the last few days, the only evidence being our game numbers of zebra and wildebeest are down.  Of course the rather rounded bellies of the lions in the morning were also a tell-tale sign!

Rainy weather and a refreshing cooler temperature injected some life into the usually lazy lions and they spent all afternoon playing with each other.   Surprisingly the usually grumpy Phyre was also in jovial mood and was often the one initiating the bursts of play activity.  Nala and Narnia, aware of Phyre being the most dominant and largest lioness in the pride, were initially hesitant to join in with the fun but soon got into the spirit of things.

On Tuesday (15November) AT1 was absent for most of the day only returning to the group late afternoon; seeming very excited to see the pride she greeted everyone with visible enthusiasm.  The following day (16th) she again moved away from the pride and was busy stalking a mating pair of dikkop.  It seemed the birds were fully aware of her intentions and tried their best to scare her off from their probable nest site nearby.  The birds’ plan seemed to work and AT1 refocused her efforts onto a less threatening bush.

Has Phyre left the pride to make a den?

3 10 2011

Sisters can sometimes quarrel with each other, fighting for attention or dominance.  However, this has never seemed to be a problem with twins Nala and Narnia, as they are practically glued at the hip.  It is rarer to see the N’s apart than together – in fact, they spend most of the day within a metre of each other.  Lately they have been strengthening this sisterly bond through intense, long grooming sessions; sometimes lasting for 10 or more minutes.  As both lionesses are low in the ranks of the pride they are not often groomed by the other more senior members of the group, so is it nice to see that they look out for each other in this respect.

The N’s are also the most playful of the adult lions; they make great aunties for AT1.  Lately, the cub has been practising her stalking techniques out on the sleeping Nala.  On Friday (30 September) AT1 was seen tactfully using the cover of a small shrub to sneak up on the unaware lioness and pounce on her head!  Most members of the group would be rather annoyed about being woken up from their slumber in this way, but being such a fantastic aunt that she is, Nala gave back as good as she got, as she play-bit AT1 and biffed her gently in a pretend fight.

The researchers have been getting excited these past few days.  Probably-pregnant Phyre and Kenge were found early in the morning resting together by themselves in Hwange on Friday (30 September), but when the researchers came back to see them just before leaving the site for breakfast, they could not locate them.  In fact, both lionesses escaped their radar for the rest of the day.  It was assumed that maybe the lionesses have decided to go and find a den to have cubs; both females are right in the window for expected gestation length to give birth at any time now, if they did in fact successfully conceive..  However, by Saturday morning (1 October) Kenge was spotted walking up Route 66 behind Nala and AT1.  It seems like she has decided that it’s not quite the right time for her to den just yet, but as Phyre was still absent for the entire day, the researchers hope that she has found herself a nice and secluded spot to give birth.   Watch this space!

You can always rely on a father’s love

9 09 2011

With the warmer weather now moving in, the lions are becoming more inactive through the day; leaving the bulk of their (minimal) activity to the cooler nights.  This is however with the exception of the ever-playful AT1.  She spent her day (7th Sep) trying to initiate play with the unenthusiastic lionesses.  This included bringing a stone in her mouth to present to some of the members of the pride who all appeared to look up briefly from their slumber and then doze off again, much to AT1’s disappointment!  This did not seem to deter her jovial efforts, as she carried on pawing the stone and throwing it up in the air from her mouth.  She even took it to her protective dad Milo to see if he’d join in the games as he sometimes does, but sadly on this occasion sleep was his number one priority!  After Milo had woken up AT1 returned later to him to say hello and reaffirm the strong bond that exists between the two of them.

The playfulness did not end there; at one point AT1 seemed to be enjoying herself by trying to catch the omnipresent flies – possibly a trait learnt from observing fellow pride member, Narnia, who has a habit of trying to catch those pesky flies.

At one point in the day AT1 also thought she would try her luck at stalking some birds.  She crouched on the ground and edged forwards slowly, but unfortunately for her (and fortunately for the birds) the intended prey flew off well before she could get close.

This playful behaviour is a great sign for the success of the Stage 2 programme as it is showing that AT1 is already learning essential hunting techniques from her captive-born pride members.

You turn your head away for a few seconds…

25 07 2011

An early morning research session was on the agenda for our research team on Friday (22nd July).

The team entered the release site just before 4am and soon found Milo resting by himself near the Western fenceline. Nala, Narnia, Ashanti and Athena joined him not long after with AT1 following behind by a couple of minutes.

The females were alert and vigilant and started to move off into the grasses of Kruger, leaving AT1 behind in the capable paws of Milo. Quite often we see AT1 initiate play with her dad, but to our surprise this time it was Milo who decided it was playtime. He stalked his daughter and playfully bowled her over on to her back, gently pawing her face as she tried to bite his paws. AT1 seemed delighted with the sudden playfulness of her dad and was soon climbing on his back and biting on his mane. She became distracted by the sound of zebras alarm calling in the distance and set off in search of the other females. It wasn’t long before she found Athena, Nala and Narnia and together they set off further into the bush. The females stalked to approximately 15m away from a zebra herd and quickly chased; but to no avail.

Our research team left the lions just after 6am, and then re-entered the site 25 minutes later to begin the normal morning session. In the short time that the team had been absent from the site the lions had successfully killed a zebra. Frustrating as it was for the team to have missed the kill, they spent the remaining research sessions for the day with the pride as they fed and rested intermittently.

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