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!


Lightening reactions

28 02 2012

The scene in Ngamo on the afternoon of the 23rd can only be described as apocalyptic.  It has been unpleasantly hot and humid for the past few days and both the lions and our research team were looking to the skies for some much needed relief. By 4pm the skies began to grey.  By 4:30 they were black, and by 5:30pm a threatening electrical storm began to dance around Ngamo.  As the wind howled and bellowed the pride were spotted closing in upon a mixed herd of zebra and impala in the thickets of the Amboseli area.  Our researcher struggled to keep an eye on the hunting lionesses as the lightening strikes drew closer and closer. Before the resolution of this hunt could be determined it was decided that the research session should be quietly terminated, and the metal vehicle returned to camp and out of striking distance!

Lightening was still being forged in the skies above Ngamo the following morning  at 5am and  continued through to 7am. Upon arriving in Ngamo we located Ashanti and Kenge resting within the open grass area of Maasai Mara. As the lightening lit up the morning sky around the lionesses the torrential rain also began pounding down upon the less than impressed cats.  Yet it appeared the weather would soon be in their favour.  Prey was seen approaching the females up-wind of the waiting lions. None of the herd spotted the crouching huntresses and the young zebra stallion leading the way was heading straight into Kenge’s striking distance. Our researcher stood dripping in the rain in the open vehicle unable to flinch a muscle as the zebra rambled tantalizingly closer to Kenge.  Kenge had virtually became one with the grass as she pressed her body hard against the ground.  The zebra came within 30m of the lionesses yet neither moved an inch.  More often than not a lion will wait patiently for game to approach within 30m, or will stalk to this distance, before giving chase; this appeared to be the ideal hunt. Sadly neither lioness went for it and both sat sodden as the herd began to move away.

Yet Kenge decided that she was not about to give up. As the herd disappeared over the brow of the hill, Kenge began flanking north up Route 66, anticipating the herd’s movements.  Amazingly, she couldn’t have been more precise as the zebra also headed to Route 66 then into the large thicket of Amboseli. Kenge slid into the thicket downwind of the herd leaving Ashanti a little confused about where she had gone. Ashanti rose to her paws and began frantically searching for her hunting partner, eventually entering the thicket herself. We decided with such a poor visual obscured by the dense vegetation, to leave the girls to it and headed off to find the rest of the pride.

When the hunter becomes the hunted

19 02 2012

We’ve begun to catch the Ngamo lions being fairly active during midday hours these last few days. With no large kill made for a week it appears the girls are beginning to try their luck within their normal sleeping hours for hunting opportunities.  On the 16th we stumbled across Nala at water hole 2 stalking some nearby impala and zebra. At first we suspected sister Narnia to be in the area also locked onto the herd, however it soon became apparent Nala as on her own hunting mission.  As the game began to move off into Etosha, Nala broke her cover and stealthily glided close past our vehicle, muscles twitching with anticipation.

The herd, still contently grazing, moved behind a small thicket creating a perfect ambush opportunity for Nala. Nala decided to take advantage of the cover and began to move in closer upon them. Unfortunately though one pesky impala had spotted her. The impala quickly alerted her fellow herd members and all fled in unison.

Appearing most frustrated Nala turned abruptly on her heels in the opposite direction and headed into Serengeti East. Little did the miffed lioness realise though that the hunter had become the hunted. The large impala herd followed Nala closely as she skulked away into the grass. The zebra snorted whilst the impala scraped their hooves upon the ground defensively. Following a predator and making themselves visible may seem a foolish move, but a predator you can see is far less dangerous than one you cannot!

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.

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.

The cubs tuck in

18 01 2012

Friday  13th January certainly was unlucky for some as following yesterday’s uneventful pursuit of impala in Masai Mara, the lions were even more hungry and continuing to hunt without reward.  Phyre, Kwali, AT1, Narnia, Nala and Kenge began the day stalking zebra in Etosha to no avail, and then later, impala that were heading at pace from Kruger towards the lions.   It wasn’t long before we saw the reason the impala were moving so quickly as Milo marched behind them unknowingly driving the impala in the direction of the females.  It could have been a very successful chase if it weren’t for the short grass and sparse shrub cover highlighting the lions’ presence but the impala were soon aware of the danger ahead and changed course.  The lions remained sat down and watched as their potential breakfast passed them by.  By the afternoon the lions’ day had come full circle as, after resting for the most part, they were again watching a herd of both zebra and impala passing through Etosha.  The girls followed the herd into Masai Mara where Narnia took the initiative and began to stalk.  Again, unlucky for Narnia, the zebra ran away followed closely behind by the impala and within seconds they were gone from the advances of one of the pride’s finest hunters.

The pride, perhaps feeling a bit discouraged by the past few days’ near misses, had a day off from hunting and on Saturday (14th January) Nala, Narnia, Ashanti, Phyre, Kwali, AT1, Kenge and her cubs all spent the day lazing in their usual way.  It had now been 8 days since the pride last ate and particularly Ashanti and Kenge both seemed to be irritable.  Ashanti, who is usually more obliging than Kenge to feed cubs that are not her own, snarled at KE3 and KE4 when they approached her to suckle and Kenge, usually a very patient and attentive mother, also snarled and snapped at her youngsters sending them crying and looking for milk.  The two ever-hungry cubs determined not to go without instead made their way towards non-lactating Phyre, but she too growled and rolled over not allowing the two little mouths to latch on to her.  A slightly confused KE3 even approached resident nanny Kwali to suckle, much to Kwali’s bewilderment!

Sunday (15th January) finally brought success! On arrival into the site in the morning we found Milo and AT1 in Amboseli both at a long-awaited zebra kill.  Narnia, Phyre, Kwali, Ashanti, Kenge and their respective cubs were also resting close by, each of them with large contented bellies.  As AT1 munched away at her breakfast dad Milo was doing his usual trick of resting his head on the carcass making sure that no-one approached to eat without his permission.  The whole pride remained at the kill site for the whole day and by the afternoon Milo had finally released his hold on the zebra and the small amount of meat left was now being finished off by Kenge together with hers and Ashanti’s cubs.

Kenge had managed to find herself the jaw bones and as she rasped at the last few scraps so did KE3 and KE4, KE3 even managing to get her little head stuck as she forced her way in for meat.   The four young lions had endless fun chewing and clambering over the bones even entering into battles over the same piece with mini sized growls and slaps!  But Narnia soon put a stop to AS4’s fun as, not being satisfied with her full belly, she crept up behind AS4 and forced her off the bone she was happily making the most of.  What a bully Narnia!

KE3 & KE4 decide that stripes are in season

28 12 2011

Tuesday (20 December) morning and what appeared to be a lone Narnia taking a morning stroll soon turned into a game of follow the leader.  As she wandered through Amboseli she came across Nala and AT1 both lying on an anthill.  They rose to their feet and the trio made their way towards the waterhole where Phyre, Kwali and Ashanti were also resting.  They too joined the procession and they all walked together for a while before resting in Etosha.  Meanwhile Kenge and her cubs spent the day lazing and playing in Serengeti East.

On first sighting of the pride on Wednesday (21 December) they all appeared to have enjoyed a good meal with zebra being their food of choice.  Nala, Narnia, Phyre, Kwali and AT1 were all resting in Etosha with pink chins and large contented bellies. Not going without a meal, Kenge and her large belly were also spotted wandering through Serengeti East together with KE3 and KE4, surprisingly quite close to grazing zebra.  KE3 and KE4 instantly took an interest in the unusual striped animals and, showing that they may turn out to be two brave little lions, started to walk towards the zebra who in turn were as interested in the daring cubs.  After watching for a few moments mum Kenge decided that they should perhaps wait a little while longer before taking on zebra and she rose to her feet forcing the zebra to run back for safety.

Thursday (22 December) was somewhat of a quiet day in Ngamo with Phyre, Kwali,  Ashanti and AT1 not being seen all day.  Milo spent his day in Etosha resting alongside Nala and Narnia, an unlikely pair for the boss to be spending his time with.   Kenge and her cubs were not too far away at waterhole 1 and as mum rested KE3 and KE4 amused themselves by playing with a stick.

On Friday (23 December) Phyre, Ashanti, Kwali and AT1 all spent the day resting in the long grass of Treetops.  Milo joined the girls later in the day where he remained until the sun went down.  As they all slept a group of zebra passed by, approximately 60m away.  With a lions scent being one of its best hunting tools it was no surprise that Ashanti and Phyre’s heads raised just as the zebra neared.  Kwali, also picking up on the scent, made no hesitation; and on seeing Ashanti move into a stalk position flanked to the right to begin the ambush.  As Kwali drove the zebra back in the opposite direction Ashanti patiently waited for her chance to pick up the chase.  Unluckily however Ashanti failed to catch the zebra and after watching the herd run on for a short time the lions all returned to their previous positions and went back to sleep.  Although unfortunate that their hunt was in vain it was an exciting end to a very sleepy day in Ngamo.

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