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.
Milo, the pride male from the Ngamo lion pride at Antelope Park in Zimbabwe is normally surrounded by females, but was recently found spending some male bonding time with his only son; the increasingly handsome AS5. Now two years old, AS5 has been spotted alone on numerous occasions over the last few weeks; often choosing to stay behind and sleep rather than join the other lions on hunts to find prey. At this age, lions in the wild are beginning to face regular rebuffs from older pride members as a prelude to being exiled from the pride altogether. The arrival of new males during a pride takeover, or the birth of cubs, can often act as catalysts for the departure of young males from their natal pride. Fortunately for AS5, Milo is the only reigning male and all of the Ngamo lionesses have now been fitted with contraceptive implants to prevent inbreeding amongst pride members. However, behaviour towards AS5 is still being monitored carefully, as it would seem the young male is certainly the lesser ranking pride member these days, as expected for a sub-adult male.
It wasn’t always this way though. As a young cub, AS5 was definitely Daddy’s boy. Milo had a real soft spot for his son and the feeling was certainly mutual. The cub revelled in his father’s attention, appearing to be in sheer bliss when lucky enough to receive a rare lick or two from the alpha male. At this stage, AS5 would often seek out Milo play with him and, on the whole, his exuberant greetings were met with tolerance. The cub also displayed dominance towards his sisters, regularly beginning rough bouts of play with them and continuing to suckle from mother Ashanti long after weaning had begun for the females; a Mummy’s boy too!
Because of his increasing loss of status these days, AS5’s natural wild instincts make him cautious around Milo; particularly when greeting his father. It looks, however, as if relations are currently – if temporarily – improving. One particular morning in December, Milo waited until the females were out hunting before going to sit close by his son. At first, the youngster studied his every move with great curiosity until he was unable to sit still any longer. Crawling towards Milo on his belly, a typical sign of submission, AS5 kept going until he was nestling in his father’s forepaws, just as he had once done as a tiny cub. Now weighing in at around 100kgs, he could no longer fit under Milo’s hairy chin, but that didn’t stop him enjoying his newly-elevated position in his father’s affections. Milo reciprocated with gentle grunts and the two then proceeded to patrol the pride’s territory together, stopping briefly for a drink where AS5 continued to gaze upon his old man’s mane and dominating presence in awe.
Unfortunately for AS5, Milo’s sudden interest in his son wasn’t shared by the pride females. Later when the father and son duo joined the rest of the pride, Milo was showered with greetings while AS5 was forced to dodge swiping paws and flashes of bared white teeth. Luckily sister AS4 had kept a place by her side for him, where she did her best to comfort her shy brother by grooming his adolescent mane. It seems that life may continue to be tough for this young lion, echoing the tribulations of his sub-adult male counterparts in the wild.
As one of eight second generation cubs born into ALERT’s two release prides, it is AS5 and his contemporaries that will eventually be released into Africa’s national parks and reserves, proving a viable framework for the successful reintroduction of captive-born lions. A future for the African lion.
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.