Kenge, Nala & AS5
The afternoon of the 17th of November saw the Ngamo pride on the move from Serengeti West, over Route 66 and into Camp. With Ashanti leading the way, one by one the rest of the pride followed, until they all took a break from the afternoon's sun in the deep shade of a tree.
As the pride began to settle, Nala spotted something in the distance and headed off to investigate. The research team followed the curious lioness and discovered a large herd of impala and wildebeest grazing new shoots of grass. As Nala got closer and closer to the grazing herds she flanked left into longer grass to disguise herself.
The herd, seemingly oblivious to the scrutiny they were now under, also failed to notice the rest of the pride making their way through the long grass towards them. The pride took up their positions and watched.
AT1 was the first to make a move; keeping to the long grass she crouched low to maintain cover as she sought a better position. Nala snuck up behind an ant hill, just a few of meters away from the wildebeest and the impala a bit further away. Everything seemed set for a perfect ambush of the wildebeest.
The next few moments was a blur of fur and legs, but the long and short of it appears to be that AS5 jumped the gun, and not only that, went for the wrong prey. Nala could only watch as the fleeing impala spooked the wildebeest and her meal exited the scene at great pace, followed by a lumbering AS5. Nala stood atop her ant hill and surveyed the now prey-less area in front of her until AS5 returned empty-handed and joined her. With chances of a meal long gone, the pair rejoined the rest of the pride and settled in for a snooze.
Later, and with the heat of the day beginning to cool off, Phyre decided it was time to move once again and led the pride towards waterhole 3. Just past the waterhole was a herd of zebra. Nala, Kenge, Phyre and Kwali all began the stalk once again, slowly edging their way towards them. This time Ashanti held back, and the cubs stayed with her as the others split up in all directions, stalking the unsuspecting herd. Suddenly the sound of galloping hooves could be herd with Kenge hot on their tails. They ran past waterhole 3 and into a thicket, leaving the determined lioness in their dust. Sight was lost of the zebra and slowly the pride began emerging from the surrounding vegetation to share a refreshing drink.
The evening of the 18th of November saw the Ngamo pride moving from Etosha towards waterhole 2. With dominant male Milo occupied with a zebra kill made during the night in Tree Tops the rest of the pride grabbed a quick drink and headed into Masai Mara.
A herd of zebra could be seen grazing in the distance. Quickly the females began the stalk. With dark storm clouds covering the release site the wind gusted from the lions towards the zebra alerting them to their presence. The herd galloped off and the pride wandered towards waterhole 1. By the time the research team had caught up Kenge and AT1 already had a zebra down and were beginning to feed. The rest of the pride soon descended on the kill.
The excitement of a fresh kill seemed to the spirits of the young male, AS5, and he began playing with his mum, slapping, jumping and flopping on top of her. This playfulness seemed contagious and soon dominant female Phyre joined, resulting in AS5 chasing her in circles around the rest of the pride as they continued to tuck into their fresh kill.
AS5 with Ashanti (above) and with Phyre (below)
With darkness falling over the release site the storm clouds continued to build bringing lightning strikes and a few drops of rain.
AN UPDATE ON NARNIA
As reported at the time, on the morning of 25th June this year the Ngamo research team discovered 7½ year old Narnia with her back legs seemingly paralyzed. She was removed to the release site’s management enclosure and a vet called. Whilst this condition has many possible causes, we were advised that the most likely diagnosis was a prolapsed (or slipped) disc. This diagnosis has since been confirmed by x-ray, showing a prolapsed disc between vertebrae C-12 and C-13, with some degeneration on other vertebrae.
A prolapsed disc occurs when the circle of connective tissue surrounding the disc breaks down. This allows the soft, gel-like part of the disc to swell and protrude out. It is not always clear what causes the connective tissue to break down. However, slipped discs are often the result of increasing age; as the lion gets older, the spinal discs start to lose their water content. This makes them less flexible and more likely to rupture or split. There are a number of other factors that can put increased pressure and strain on the spine including bending awkwardly or an injury to the back (such as being kicked by a zebra during a hunt).
Over the past four and a half months Narnia has made some improvement, but also has had several relapses more recently. Further investigation indicates that the natural process of repair has resulted in some nerves having regenerated, but with aberrant connections. Our vets have advised that there is nothing we can do to resolve this situation, and as such, it will not be possible for Narnia to re-join the Ngamo pride in the release site. Over the coming weeks her condition will be monitored to assess whether she can recover sufficiently to achieve quality of life in captivity. To reduce stress that can be induced by movement to, and the novelty of, a new enclosure, Narnia is being kept in the management enclosure adjoining the Ngamo release site which will also allow for the pride members to interact with her through the fence and possibly help her with her recovery.
Narnia was born in November 2005 to a private owner who had bred two lion cubs he had found on Hwange airstrip in western Zimbabwe and raised to adulthood. Narnia and her sister Nala were given sanctuary to save them from being shot, joining the African Lion Rehabilitation & Release into the Wild Program in 2006. The 2Ns (pictured below), as they became known, were one of the most successful groups ever on night encounters at Antelope Park, achieving a 52% hunting success rate between them.
Given her hunting prowess it was decided that Narnia would be an asset to a release pride, but being inbred she was spayed before release into the Dollar Block site, along with her sister, on 13th April 2008. Narnia flourished under the tutelage of the older females of the pride, staying with them when the pride was relocated and released into the Ngamo site in September 2010.
The Ngamo pride have achieved everything we hoped for, and their success can in no small part be attributed to Narnia; by putting her formidable hunting skills to good use to help feed the pride. When the pride’s numbers swelled following the birth of the cubs Narnia again played a core role. She spent many hours looking after and playing with the pride’s cubs, and through that play the cubs were able to practice skills they will later rely on to survive. No doubt the cubs have also learned a great deal by watching Narnia hunt. Whilst it is disappointing that Narnia will be unable to return to the Ngamo release site, we are able to celebrate the huge contribution she has made to her pride, and to her species through helping raise the first cubs in the program destined for release into the wild.