Welcome to part two of our “For the Love of Lions Blog”, which is a special celebration for World Lion Day on 10 August 2021.
It is a day to celebrate our love of lions and raise awareness about their plight and the important work being done to save these majestic animals. Lions will always have a special place in our hearts. They are such fierce, yet gentle creatures, with such power and strength, yet they are facing great dangers caused by humans. We fight for them on a daily basis, and on this World Lion Day, we again pledge to do everything we can to help these animals that we love so much. We are #LionStrong.
In this issue, we discuss the special lions of the Kalahari, hear about some of the goings on in the Timbavati lion prides, provide updates on conservation projects and issues, talk about one of our wild male lion relocations, the importance of cubs playing, and share some stunning lion photos and special thoughts about these big cats.
“The lion is an emblem of the dream of absolute power —
and, as a wild rather than a domestic animal, he belongs
to a world outside the realm of society and culture.”
LIONS OF THE KALAHARI
The lions of the Kalahari are particularly special lions, who have adapted to the harsh environments of the desert. The temperatures in the Kalahari range from -15°C to +40°C, meaning they are faced with both extreme cold and extreme hot conditions, including dust storms and desert rain.
These desert lions have a different physique, with larger paws which help them when walking through sand, leaner legs which help them to walk greater distances in the search for prey, and are generally around 20-40 kilograms lighter than other African lions. The male lions of the Kalahari are known for their stunning dark manes.
The prides have large territories, and mostly hunt for larger herbivores including gemsbok, eland, kudu, and wildebeest, but they will also hunt smaller mammals like springbok. They have even been known to go after porcupines, although this can get a little prickly! They are able to survive for up to two weeks without water. One of the ways these special lions survive and thrive in the desert is to live in large prides and hunt in these big groups using teamwork to bring down their prey.
Kalahari lions are said to have incredible resilience and tenacity given their harsh living conditions, but like all of African’s lions, they are vulnerable and face the same problems including the loss of their habitat and human/wildlife conflict.
SAFARI STORIES: CHAD COCKING, THANDA TULA GUIDE & PHOTOGRAPHER
Tanda Tula guide and photographer Chad Cocking has discussed some of his recent sightings in the Timbavati in his Tanda Tula blog. He talks about the movements of the River Pride, including them starting the week “with their usual wanderings before they were found with a zebra kill”. Whilst the male lions were not on the kill, the lionesses were able to successfully defend it against the two Sark Breakaway lions that arrived on the scene.
Later that afternoon, there was a “wonderful sighting as the River Pride got chased off the kill by an elephant bull determined to show them just who is boss in these parts of the Greater Kruger! Once the bull lost interest, the pride returned to feed, only to be met by around fifteen hyenas that wanted their share of the spoils. Fortunately, the three River lionesses managed to keep them at bay and the hyenas soon settled down not far from the carcass”.
The following day, the two Nharhu males re-joined the pride, before ending the week “fat-bellied and drinking at a pan just south of Nkhari”. Chad commented that it was “good to see the pride getting some more regular meals as they had been struggling a little of late”.
He also talks about the Sark Breakaway lions, who were “around for a couple of days this week in the central regions, and the young male’s limp is getting much better. The same cannot be said for the limping Nharhu male who is really struggling with his leg since chasing the Sark and Western Pride lions away from a dead giraffe almost three weeks ago”.
With dominant males required to defend their pride and territory, they are sometimes forced into battle with other pride males or intruder males, leading to injuries. Lions are very resilient, however, and can usually continue on hunting and defending their territory, even with permanent injuries. It is amazing to see how strong these powerful animals are and how they just don’t give up, even in the face of adversity. This is one of the reasons why they are the kings of the savannah.
CONSERVATION MATTERS: PROTECTING AFRICAN LIONS (PAL)
One of the organisations we work with, Protecting African Lions (P.A.L.), has recently commented on the anniversary of the death of Cecil the lion, who was illegally hunted six years ago in Zimbabwe. They say that they have been “campaigning to stop this blood sport called Trophy Hunting! Slowly the world is recognising the importance of the symbiotic relationship between humans, wildlife, and nature as a whole. We are running out of time and must protect these incredible beings from extinction!”.
The mission of P.A.L. is to “ultimately get protection status for the African Lion”. Their iconic P.A.L bracelet symbolizes co-existence, attracts donations and sponsorship to start protecting wild lions from further decline. They explain that “By contributing to the protection of the world’s most majestic animal, you are connected to the imperial symbol of courage, spirit and the awesome power of Mother Nature. This is an expression of your purity of spirit and togetherness with all living things”.
“I count my blessings every day and I know, with every
part of my heart and soul, that I am doing what I was
born to do. To have that feeling and knowledge brings
me so much inner peace! I will never give up. I will never
let anything come between me and my love for lion.”
~ Drew Abrahamson, Captured In Africa Foundation
FLASHBACK LION RESCUE: WILD LION RELOCATION with Captured In Africa Foundation
Back in 2014, Drew Abrahamson and the Captured in Africa Foundation were involved in the relocation of two three-year-old wild male lions from a private commercial game reserve in Natal, South Africa. This was a very gruelling and stressful seven-month operation, due to there being limited space for wild lion relocations across the country. Lion rescues and relocations are seldom without problems due to their complexities and the issues involved in this work. But Drew prides herself on never giving up, and always continuing to push through and find a solution.
Having reached maturity, at the time when male lions are kicked out of the pride, there were tense moments in trying to get the males into the boma prior to their relocation. Their mother was very experienced and kept them out of harm’s way and safe from the claws of the new males on the reserve. When they finally entered the boma, it was time to do their blood tests and prepare for their relocation to their new home an hour and a half away. Feeling immense relief, Drew travelled to the reserve to assist with the relocation, stating that feeling “excited as we reached the main entrance to the reserve was an understatement”. Along the way, she reflected on the journey to this point and the highs and lows of lion rescues.
On arrival at the reserve, she was taken on an afternoon game drive to see the boys in the boma, for which she felt “incredibly privileged as before then none of the guides had gone down there”. The lions were asleep under the tree, as lions generally are in the afternoon sunshine. One of them had a light mane, with his brother having a dark mane, making it easy to tell them apart. The light-maned male was more alert than his brother, who barely lifted his head while his eyes darted across to see who was approaching. Drew explained that the light-maned lion, “looked at us for a little while, flopping down in true male lion fashion. He rolled slightly onto his back with his legs spread and belly exposed, seemingly content with the world as it was. With a stare up to the sky, I wondered what was racing through his mind as he was shifting his head ever so slightly staring at me through the view finder in my camera”. She “fell in love right there and then. He was incredibly beautiful! A sense of fulfilment raced through me and I felt as content as he looked!”
With unexpected delays due to an emergency for the vet, Drew was required to stay at the reserve for longer than anticipated, allowing her to go on the next morning’s game drive. One of the highlights was coming across two of the three Southern Pride females, who were 19 months old and armed with a ‘kill’, being a baby leopard tortoise. She was also able to spend time with two cheetah brothers.
When the time came to return to the boma, Drew was “suddenly aware of what had been accomplished and became quite emotional, not really wanting to speak to anyone, just wanting to sit quietly with my thoughts”. On arrival at the boma, the lions were darted, but the light-maned male gave the vets a bit of a run around and was extremely grumpy, so it took him a little time to go down. After all of the ups and downs of the rescue, Drew explained that, “all I wanted to do was go lie on the ground with my arms around the boys and give them the biggest squeeze!”
When they were sedated, Drew jumped at the opportunity to measure the light-maned lion’s front paws and teeth, and was able to sit and hold him while the rest of the team did what they needed to do. Once he was loaded into the transport vehicle, the team moved on to his brother, with a sense of urgency as he was sedated first. When loaded into the vehicle, Drew “hung back a little to get one last look at them” and what followed was a growl from one of the males.
With the lions loaded up into the vehicle, it was time for the drive to their new home, during which time Drew “wasn’t really aware of where we were going or what we were doing. I stopped for a brief moment and thought about what I had just done, how privileged I am to do the work that I do, to be involved and to try and help one of the most incredibly powerful, majestic creatures to walk the earth”. She concluded that, “I count my blessings every day and I know, with every part of my heart and soul, that I am doing what I was born to do. To have that feeling and knowledge brings me so much inner peace! I will never give up. I will never let anything come between me and my love for lion”.
FUN FACTS: LION CUBS AT PLAY
Lion cubs love to play, and we love to watch them doing so. What might seem like cute, fun playing for them is actually vitally important to their development and strengthening their muscles. They play hunt and stalk each other, which helps them learn hunting techniques and honing their skills. After watching the adults of the pride, as well as using their natural instincts, they will try to “take down” their siblings by grabbing them around the neck, as is done when hunting large prey.
Generally, in these play fights their claws will be retracted, but it can get a little out of control and they can start to hurt each other. When this happens, their mothers can step in and reprimand them. Cubs also like to play with their older siblings and will even play hunt their mother, father, and aunts.
Playing is also useful for burning extra energy, which cubs have an abundance of. With adult lions expending an enormous amount of energy in hunting and feeding, they need to rest for a large part of the day. During this time, cubs can get bored and restless, so they will play with their siblings, and will at times annoy the pride’s lionesses, looking for extra fun. Mum’s tail is always a special plaything.
Cubs will also explore their area and look for other things to play with. Sticks and branches are particularly popular toys, which can cause jealously amongst siblings. When a cub has a stick to play with, its brother or sister will often become interested in the stick and try to steal it from them. They just don’t want to be left out of the fun!
It is all of these experiences and the time spent learning in the pride that gives them the knowledge and skills to grow into the fierce predators they will soon become.
As mentioned in part 1, the South African Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment announced steps to end the commercial captive lion breeding industry in South Africa. Since that time, the Department has released its policy document on the conservation and ecologically sustainable use of elephant, lion, leopard, and rhinoceros. It was determined that the ban on captive lion breeding would be amended to include all big cats as well as rhinos, as the High-Level Panel was concerned that operators would swap lions for other animals.
The policy document incorporates species management interventions for captive lions, which includes immediately halting domestication and exploitation of lions and closing captive lion facilities, preventing live exports, increasing wildness, naturalness, and wellbeing of fauna, and adopting a “One Welfare” approach.
Feedback on the policy was requested until late July, with further updates expected soon.
WHA DO LIONS MEAN TO YOU?
To celebrate World Lion Day, we ask you to share your thoughts, feelings, memories, and photos of lions across social media, and tell us what lions mean to you. Please also take this opportunity to speak to your family, friends and associates about lions and the issues they face. Education and raising awareness are so important. Everyone around the world can help to save these animals, and they need us now more than ever.
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