Stressful times in prideland
Had a very stressful time over the last few days here at ALERT. Two of Phyre’s cubs are missing, presumed dead, with only one remaining that we cannot locate. Kenge has probably given birth now too but we have no idea where she is, how many cubs she has, and how many may also have possibly gone the same was as Phyre’s. Athena, the lioness with the eight month-old, has been seen with three baby cubs (not hers), nursing them, carrying them around and letting Wakanaka her cub play with them. However, this means that the fragile little things are away from their mother and not being cared for properly, so their survival is very much compromised. We tried to move Athena and Wakanaka into a management enclosure yesterday to give the new mothers time to sort themselves out, but herding lions is about 100 times harder than herding cats, and this ended up being an epic fail on all accounts. The lions were stressed, we were stressed; it was not a good day.
Today we cannot locate Phyre or Kenge, so don’t know how they are doing, but we presume they both have at least one cub left, which is why they’re not with the rest of the pride. Only time will tell whether any of these cubs make it. Success rate of wild cubs averages at around 50%, but the survival rate here has been less than 1 in 10. Something, evidently, is not right about the situation, which we presume has something to do with the size of the reserve (just over 400 acres) and the lack of large prey available. Most cub survival rates quoted in previous scientific papers depend upon prey biomass availability and social variables such as new males coming into the pride. As the latter is not a problem here, it appears the former is the limiting factor. This stage of the programme was never meant to include cubs, so it is possible that the decision is made to stop, at least for now, any lionesses becoming pregnant.
In other news, I went to the clinic a few days ago because my stomach was still giving me problems. They gave me some antibiotics and heartburn medication, which both seemed to have helped my symptoms. I just hope that once I finish my course of treatment that I don’t get ill again.
I have had just one day off in nearly 5 weeks now. My energy reserves are beginning to dwindle. Hopefully the university student who is also studying the lions will be back in the release site tomorrow or the day after so she will be able to collect data for me whilst I take a much-needed rest day. It appears out of all the 200 odd staff that work here, I apparently get the most bum deal out of it all because although they have to work 2 or 3 weeks without a day off, they can then have 5-10 days off in a row. I will probably be lucky to have 10 days off in total over the 6 months I’m here! I really need to start working on my grant applications and research paper that I want to submit to a journal, but I am not finding any time to do any of this. I have to weigh up the balance between this job and my future prospects. What is more important – my current work, or my PhD?