Blood isn't always thicker than water
May 28 2015

As the research team arrived into Ngamo on the morning of 16th May they were met by Kenge, Ke4 and At1 who were travelling along the boundary in Masai Mara.  Meanwhile Phyre and Milo trailed behind in the distance, wandering through Amboseli.  Once the team had recorded their data on the lions’ positions they continued with their search for the remaining pride members. 

It was in the Camp area of the site that they encountered Kwali, Nala, As4 and As5 and as soon as the team arrived they realised that there was a bit of a ‘situation’ taking place.  As4 and As5 were seemingly ‘bullying’ Nala and the siblings had their pride mate cornered whilst she held a defensive stance.  The siblings gave chase to Nala and after a few metres she crouched submissively, snarling and baring her teeth as they stood over her intimidatingly.  A moment or so later Nala rose to her paws and ran away from the pair, but again they chased after her.  This time, as she crouched, Nala growled and swiped her paw at AS5, keeping him at bay while she checked around to see AS4’s whereabouts. 

Suddenly, undoubtedly hearing the commotion, the rest of the pride came bounding through the area and whilst Nala continued to hold AS5 off, Ashanti came rushing to her aid.  Ashanti unleashed a mighty growl upon As5, warning him off Nala and forcing him to move away! Milo also seemed to dislike the discord among his pride and he charged at each of the lions sending them scattering in all directions and diffusing the whole affair. 

The team were left open-mouthed at Ashanti’s motivation to protect unrelated female Nala from her son, especially as we have documented an extremely close bond between Ashanti and her offspring.  However Ashanti also has a very strong attachment to the pride as a whole, something that was apparent when As4 and As5 were born.  As a nursing mother she would often leave her cubs in the security of their den and indulge in extended sessions of ‘pride time’, in contrast to fellow nursing mum Kenge who seemed to spend much more time in her den with her cubs, rather than with the pride. 

The foundation of lion social organisation is based upon the benefits that one receives from living in a group, such as co-operative hunting and communal care of cubs.  Although Nala may be at the lower end of the hierarchy in Ngamo, her proven hunting record clearly serves the pride well and it would seem that Ashanti might well have learnt the benefits of the contribution Nala makes.  It just goes to show that blood is not always thicker than water, at least, not if you are a lion.  

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