Since 1975, the African lion population has decreased by an estimated 80-90%, and numbers continue to fall. The African Lion and Environmental Research Trust (ALERT) is working to conserve this iconic species before it is too late for the King of Beasts.
In Zambia, three young lion cubs in the Dambwa release pride are busy finding their place within the pride and appear more and more confident every day. Dad, Zulu, has become an object of great attraction for the cubs and seems to bear this constant attention, for the most part, with amazing patience. Obviously craving sleep, Rusha takes every opportunity she can get for a short catnap, like any new mum. Whilst aunts Kela and Kwandi have remained equally as fascinated by the cubs as they were on their first encounter, the rest of the pride – Leya, Loma and Temi – remain slightly wary and at times intolerant of the youngsters. The cubs however are working hard to wear this hard-nosed trio’s resilience down.
The Dambwa pride is part of the four-stage African Lion Rehabilitation and Release into the Wild Program, developed by Antelope Park in Zimbabwe and supported by ALERT. Another pride, the Ngamo pride at Antelope Park, contains five second-generation cubs. These cubs – and others like them – with natural skills and behaviours comparable to any wild-born lion, will eventually be reintroduced into Africa’s national parks and reserves.
Regular research is carried out the two prides to gauge if these lions are behaving in a way that would be expected within a wild pride. ALERT research teams study group dynamics and social interactions, territorial behaviours and hunting skills. As the program’s ultimate goal is to release lions into the wild, the important question is, are the prides reproducing well and do they look after their cubs as well as a wild-born mother would? The answer appears to be a resounding ‘yes’.
Sometimes these research sessions prove to be more fruitful than others! Often the pride can be found sprawled in the shade of a tree. At close to 40 degrees centigrade in Zambia at this time of year, you can’t blame them for keeping still and as cool as possible. But it doesn’t make for the most productive research session. Early morning visits to the site tend to enjoy more action, as the weather is cooler and the pride more active. During one such recent visit, the research team arrived just as a playful tussle was beginning to turn a little rough. A bout of antagonism between the L sisters, Leya and Loma, (who can be a pair of bullies when they put their mind to it) and Temi ensued, before all three thought better of it and decided to call it a day.
Not long after, Rusha appeared with three very excited cubs trailing her. When they were first born, Rusha often left the cubs behind in a thicket if she and the rest of the pride were moving more than a few hundred metres away. Gradually they have begun to accompany her and the other lions on longer moves; another sign of their permanent integration into the pride. Cubs will still be cubs though. Bounding along the road behind her, they stopped every few metres to stalk, chase and clamber all over one another. As the morning began to warm up, Zulu became under siege from his offspring. He is certainly turning into their favourite toy! After 10 minutes or so of being climbed over and bitten and scratched, Rusha had to step in and placate him with a long grooming session before Zulu lost patience with the cubs. While the adults clearly struggle with the rising temperatures, the cubs are full of energy and know no bounds.
There could soon be other new cubs completing for the pride’s attention. The two K sisters were both seen mating with Zulu during June; Kela in the second week and Kwandi towards the end of the month. Their condition has been monitored over the subsequent weeks and now the research team are now fairly confident that both sisters are expecting litters.
Africa needs lions. Without lions Africa will be a continent that has lost its soul. We cannot be the generation that allows this to happen. Join our Pride and show your support for the King of Beasts.