Welcome to our new blog, “For the Love of Lions”.
We are excited to bring you this blog, which features a variety of lion stories, photos, information, facts, educational pieces, and rescue stories, all of which highlight our passion for lions and pay tribute to these special big cats. We bring together an array of pieces from our team and supporters, colleagues in the field, lion conservationists, photographers and safari guides, which will be updated throughout the year, providing an ongoing “go to” place to share our collective love of lions.
We dedicate this blog to all of the magnificent African Lions in the wild and in captivity, who we fight for every day.
“Knowledge is like a lion; it cannot be gently embraced”
~ Old South African Proverb
RESCUED CAPTIVE MALE LION:
We begin with an update on one of our favourite lions, Kesari, who we helped to rehome from the Pretoria Zoo to the ADI Wildlife Sanctuary. He is continuing to thrive at his forever home, and is a happy and healthy cat, who is much loved by the sanctuary staff. For Valentine’s Day this year, Kesari and his other feline friends at the sanctuary were given special treats to play with. Here he is looking happy and relaxed with his watermelon treat. It is great to see him looking so well!
LIONS OF THE TIMBAVATI:
We recently published our “White Lions – The Most Mysterious of the Big Cats” blog, which mentioned the mighty Birmingham Pride of the Timbavati Private Game Reserve. There are currently two white lions in that pride – a subadult male and female – who are growing into stunning animals. The young white male, along with his tawny brothers, is developing his mane, and showing dominance amongst the subadults.
The territory of the Birmingham Pride includes the area around Ngala Private Game Reserve in the Timbavati and east into the Orpen area of the Kruger National Park.
With five new cubs born this year, the Birmingham Pride has reached “super pride” status, with over 20 pride members. This has caused the pride to break up into smaller subgroups, with some interesting dynamics happening over the last few months. The dominant males of the pride are the Ross Males, who are also dominant over the Birmingham Breakaway Pride. This breakaway pride is the result of the previous split of the main Birmingham Pride.
The pride is now facing another split, with the Ross Males chasing away the subadult males (including the white male) who were all fathered by them, as well as the five-year-old male known as the “Birmingham Young Male”, who is the son of the previous dominant male. When the Ross Males took over the pride, he was old enough to have survived the takeover. As he is the lone surviving male from his litter, he has no same-age siblings to move away with and form a coalition. However, it is hoped that he will form a coalition with his younger half-brothers, as he has shown a closeness to them, particularly with the subadult white male.
One of the subgroups of the pride is the subadults, along with the Birmingham Young Male and his mother (known as “White Dot”), and a couple of other adult females. This group is often seen in and around the Orpen area. Another of the subgroups comprises the five young cubs and their mothers, who are also joined by the lioness with the one-year-old cubs. This leaves the remaining lionesses, who can be seen with either of the subgroups and the Ross Males.
It has been a number of months since the entire pride has been seen together, and it is thought to be unlikely that this will occur again. The main reason for large and “super” prides breaking up into smaller subgroups is the amount of food available and the mouths that need to be fed. Particularly with growing subadult males, and more so with the dominant Ross Males, most kills made do not go far enough in feeding the whole pride, unless it is a large buffalo or giraffe that has been taken down. With the feeding hierarchy most favourable to dominant males, followed by the most aggressive females and subadults, this leaves the less aggressive youngsters and cubs at a great disadvantage.
It will be interesting to follow the dynamics of the pride over the coming months, and see whether the males in the subadult group break away from the females and form their own coalition, and whether the Birmingham Young Male will join them. If that does happen, it is likely that the “White Dot” female and the lionesses with her will reconnect with the other group of lionesses, bringing a large part of the pride back together again.
“The African Lion – The true king of Africa and one that
is the focus of many tales of power struggles in the harsh
sands of the Kalahari.” ~ Andrew Aveley
Tanda Tula guide and photographer Chad Cocking has captured a gorgeous image of a young cub, commenting “Here’s looking at you kid”. What a great shot!
In his recent Tanda Tula blog, Chad has written about a number of special sightings of some of the lions of the Timbavati. He describes the lions taking centre stage, with these large, social cats being seen on every drive. This included the River Pride and the Sark Breakaway Pride, who have been making themselves at home in the area. Other lion tracks were seen belonging to the Balule females, but there were no sightings of them. The Giraffe Pride were also seen in the area.
He recounts some interesting stories of the River Pride, who have been spending time around Machaton Dam. They had fed well during the week before moving to the dam for a drink, so Chad was expecting them to be “resting their fat bellies at the dam”. But what he didn’t expect when he arrived at the dam was to find the pride eating another kill! He says “technically it was the Nharhu male that was enjoying the meal of an unfortunate male impala that they must have killed only 10-15 minutes before we arrived, and based on how muddy the lionesses were, they clearly caught the poor thing in the dam, only for the very non-muddied male to steal it from them and drag it off to enjoy his spoils”. He explains that the pride was still well-fed from the kudu kill the day before, so they were not at too much of a loss. A few days later, the pride was seen on a wildebeest kill. Chad reports that the cubs are getting bigger by the week, which he says “isn’t a surprise considering the amount of food the adults are bringing in at the moment”.
PROTECTING AFRICAN LIONS (PAL)
One of the organisations we work with, through both the Captured in Africa Foundation and Pit-Track K9 Conservation and Anti-Poaching Unit, is Protecting African Lions (P.A.L.). Their CEO Steve Travis has commented that, “We know extinction means forever, however, Endangered means we still have time. Time to act, time to support one another, time to educate the masses and time to stand up and ban canned hunting and cub petting”.
On trophy hunting, he points out that, “The only trophy one needs is one that you personally give yourself for standing up and having your day against trophy hunting!”.
Steve was recently interviewed about the work of P.A.L. and the issues facing lions. He explained how poachers, who kill lions for their bones to be sent into Asia for Traditional Chinese Medicine (to replace tiger bones), are laying traps and baiting lions, making killing them easier. One such trap is the poisoning of cattle, which attracts lions who think they’ve found an easy meal. What they don’t know is that they then ingest that poison, which kills them, after which the poachers move in, skin them and take their bones. Not only is this causing huge problems for lion populations, but the scavengers who take over lion kills, such as jackals, hyenas and vultures, are also being caught up in this poisoning, diminishing their numbers as well. P.A.L. is continuing to educate and raise awareness about these issues, as well as fundraising to help combat these problems.
Upon wakening, lions will start yawning, which is not a sign of tiredness as with humans, but rather allows extra oxygen into their system, invigorating them.
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CAPTURED IN AFRICA FOUNDATION:
SASSY & JESSIE RESCUE
At the beginning of the Captured in Africa Foundation, Founder and Director Drew Abrahamson was involved in the rescue of two four-month-old female lion cubs, Sassy and Jessie, who stole her heart. They were rescued from a breeding facility and were not in a good way. Drew was required to take the cubs to her house, and on arrival they investigated her garden before quickly settling down in their new environment.
Whilst at Drew’s house, at times they were like two naughty children, with bundles of energy and keen to investigate their surroundings. On one occasion, Drew wanted to put them outside but couldn’t find them, only to eventually find them in her daughter’s bedroom. They had managed to get in there and close the door behind them and they were running riot. Jessie was on the bed with her toy and Sassy was on the floor with her toy and wouldn’t let it go. Her squeal turned into a growl that a fully grown lioness would be proud of as she did not want to let the toy go. Drew was forced to pick her and the toy up together to take them outside.
After their short stay at Drew’s house, the cubs were transported to SanWild, which was a long drive. Fortunately, the cubs slept for the entire trip in their crates. On arrival, they were released into their enclosure, where they were greeted with some venison, and received a welcome from the anti-poaching rangers. Drew commented that “It was fantastic to see them in their natural surroundings with lots of space to run around. They were totally fixated with all the sounds, smells and sights going on around them. That night was the first time Jessie had eaten meat and lapped out of a bowl. It was a huge breakthrough as she had only been drinking from a bottle and wouldn’t touch meat!”. Their confidence was growing, their coats were shining and their souls were content.
LIONS ON THE MOVE
We all know that lions are said to be “lazy” cats, who spend up to 20 hours a day sleeping, but there are a variety of reasons for this. During the heat of the day, they need to conserve their energy ready for their night-time hunting, patrolling and moving throughout their territory. If they have had a large meal, they have most likely gorged themselves, which takes a lot of time and energy to digest. They can often be seen lying on their backs, heavily panting, which is caused by the fullness of their stomachs compressing their diaphragm, which makes it harder to breathe.
When lions are ready to get up and move around though, there are tell-tale signs to look out for. Upon wakening, they will start yawning, which is not a sign of tiredness as with humans, but rather allows extra oxygen into their system, invigorating them. They will also start stretching, either laying down or standing up, getting their muscles ready for their next journey. They are likely to greet their pride mates, reaffirming their bonds after sleeping, and will also start grooming themselves and their pride mates, cleaning and readying themselves for their adventures ahead.
SA GOVERNMENT PROPOSES TO BAN CAPTIVE LION BREEDING
As recently reported, South African Minister Barbara Creecy of the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment has announced steps to end the commercial captive lion breeding industry in South Africa. Her Department has been instructed to implement processes to stop the sale of captive lion derivatives, the hunting of captive bred lions, and tourist interactions with captive lions.
Minister Creecy said, “The Panel identified that the captive lion breeding industry poses risks to the sustainability of wild lion conservation resulting from the negative impact on ecotourism, which funds lion conservation and conservation more broadly, the negative impact on the authentic wild hunting industry, and the risk that trade in lion parts poses to stimulating poaching and illegal trade”.
The reasons for phasing out this abhorrent industry include the risk of zoonosis, animal welfare concerns, the unregulated nature of the industry and fragmented policies, the damage to South Africa’s tourism and conservation reputation, and threats to the wild lion population from poaching.
Lion conservation organisations have commended the Minister’s decision to implement these policies. They are keen to work with the Minister and her Department to find practical solutions. But with between 8,000 and 12,000 captive bred lions in over 350 facilities across South Africa, what will happen to these animals is yet to be determined.
This development is a win for wildlife and the country, which will “effectively take the lead towards a greener and more responsible South Africa”.
Captured in Africa Foundation’s Drew Abrahamson commented that this is “fantastic news for so many organisations who have been fighting tirelessly for many, many years! The realisation that the captive industry is not doing South Africa’s reputation any good along with the fact that the captive breeding and trade in parts could be very detrimental to our wild Lion populations is welcomed!”.
The full report will be released by the Department shortly, and we hope that the implementation of these new policies is done speedily.
“The only trophy one needs is one that you personally give yourself
for standing up and having your day against trophy hunting!”
~ P.A.L. CEO Steve Travis
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