Finders Keepers!

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Posted by Sara Blackburn at 1:14 PM

A couple of days ago, the Serian guides reported a group of 6 lions nearby camp, including Kioni, our older female. On the same drive, the guides found Marley close by in Military, separate to the group.
You may remember that Kioni has FOUR cubs of between 12 and 18 months of age – six lions in all including Marley. With Marley temporarily disconnected from the group, some simple maths shows that we’re one lion up. Who could this extra one be? Another female perhaps? A nomadic male come to try his luck? I had to go and investigate…
Later that day I followed my nose to Maternity, and happened across the gang. Kioni was there, relaxing and yawning to show off her missing right canine – a useful pointer for her identification. Marley had come back to his little pride, and was relaxing too nearby. I counted the four cubs, and sure enough saw another patch of fur in the crotons. Sure enough, it appears that Kioni had picked up a younger cub.

sophie tooth
Kioni has her right-upper canine broken. Also note that her teeth are yellow and worn – a clear sign of older age.

It’s a real puzzle where this little guy came from. I’m not aware of any mothers with cubs of this age in the area, apart from the group that reside across the river. Kioni and co. were seen crossing the river a fortnight ago, and this is the first time they have been seen since their trip. Could they have picked up a lost cub from the escarpment?

Who’s this little one then?

It’s something that I have never seen before, and is a very unusual occurrence in these animals. It is very common for females to nurse youngsters other than their own, as females often synchronize litters to crèche their young. Strength in numbers helps them protect their cubs from predators and intruding males, and allows for greater hunting success – the females can continue to hunt co-operatively or alone whilst one remains behind to babysit the kids.
The lions were entertaining as always, and continue to find my little Suzuki great fun to chase and play with. This is a great little pride to identify – Marley is an unusual lion, as he is a ‘grey morph’ with a small mane for his age. If you look closely at his nose, you will notice that it is not pink but grey. it will still however show the freckling that comes with age. His coat also has a grey tint.

You think this is edible, guys?

marley colourHere you can clearly see the grey tint of Marley’s coat

There are two female and two male cubs in the original group belonging to Kioni. One of the boys, Kahawa, is growing into a fine male, and it’s clear that he is getting the lion’s share of the kills (after Marley, of course!). His coat is a lovely rich terracotta red, and already he is developing muscle mass and is larger than his sisters. The second male, Maji, seems somewhat lagging in his development – there is a clear size difference and his mane is nowhere near as developed as Kahawa’s. At first glance he could even be mistaken for his sisters. He may have been a smaller cub, had an illness or been outcompeted for food by his stronger siblings. I’m sure that in time he will grow into a fine lion.

comparison2Maji (above) is a lot smaller and less developed than his brother Kahawa (below) – already Kahawa’s mane is developing on his head and he is showing the broader face and forelegs of a maturing male lion.

Marley’s pride certainly are a mixed bunch!