Blood and guts
This past week has been a concentrated mass of carnage to the highest degree. We released 17 zebra, 10 wildebeest and 50 impala into the Ngamo site last week and since then the lions have been on an extensive killing spree. They have already massacred 2 zebras, 2 wildebeest and 4 impalas within the space of 7 days! This is bearing in mind that they usually make one large kill every 4 days. These lions have gone from being pretty skinny to FAT in less than a week and it is amazing to see how different they look now – and in fact how much more energetic they are. I watched Nala and Narnia (aka the queens of brutality) spend all day yesterday trying to hunt down anything that moved within 200m of them. In fact, between the first and second session, they had managed to take down a pregnant impala that they were busy munching on next to a waterhole by the time we found them. We only knew it was pregnant because half way through devouring it, Narnia pulled out a foetus and started playing around with it like a cat would do with a mouse. Later on, she bit into the skull, sucked out the eyes and chewed on the brains – yuck!
We were in for a treat on the 30th October, when I saw my very first successful chase and kill. Narnia and Nala (quel surprise!) took down a juvenile zebra, with the rest of the pride shortly following them to help eat their breakfast. The zebra remained alive for the first 5 minutes or so, even through its bowels being ripped open by the hungry Narnia. It tried in vain to kick and scream, but unfortunately nothing would help its destined fate. Milo the alpha male sat by the kill quietly for the first few minutes, only to butt in later on once the girls had opened up the guts. He then proceeded to suck up the intestines like spaghetti – eww! Gross but enthralling!
I arranged for the volunteers and some staff to go out to a restaurant last weekend – a “Chinese” in town. The portions were massive and I ate until I was almost sick. Also from being sick of the mundane food I’m being given here, I organised a pizza and movie night a few days ago. It was nice to be doing “normal” stuff again and I wolfed down that pizza in a heartbeat. We then watched In Bruges in the presentation room, ate chocolate and went home fat and happy.
To continue on with the cub drama, Athena the mother of Wakanaka has now been removed from the Ngamo pride for cub stealing, killing and consuming. I witnessed her kill and eat at least two cubs over the last few weeks and abduct at least three. She has now been retired permanently back to the breeding programme and will spend her days living in a 50x50m enclosure. It’s a shame she lost her chance at freedom, but her behaviour could not be condoned as it was threatening the future of the project. After all, we are meant to be conserving lions, not producing cub-killing lions!
It was interesting helping to dart and move her out of the pride. We first of all had to chase all lions into their management enclosure, a small pen adjoining the main release site. We then had to weed out the rest of the pride back into the main site, leaving just Athena there. Unfortunately it wasn’t as easy as it would seem because Ashanti, Athena’s sister, did not want to leave the management enclosure. They both had to stay in the enclosure overnight and put into the management pen, a 4x4m inner cage in the management enclosure. The lions manager then had to dart Athena with the cunning use of a curtain pole and a syringe. It was hard to get Athena to sit by the fence so that she could dart her, as she kept on jumping at the fence and snarling, growling and roaring. I’ve never seen her so pissed off before! Both her and Ashanti looked scared and angry. I’m so glad there was a fence between them and us! Eventually after a few hours we managed to dart Athena and get Ashanti out. We then hauled her into a cage on the back of a truck and took her back to the breeding programme. It was weird standing on the truck looking down into the cage with her inside, being so close to her after being in a caged vehicle at least 10 m away from her for the last two months. It was quite sad to see her be taken permanently away from her chance at real freedom and back into captivity, but it was her crazy behaviour that took her there.
When we got to the breeding programme, we unloaded her, made sure she was fit and healthy, then the lion manager gave her a reversal drug. I had some time to stroke her and hold her paw, which was a very strange and humbling experience. She was so huge and had immense paws and long, long teeth. They don’t look as big when you’re in a large 4x4 truck! Her eyes kept twitching and I was a little concerned that her drugs were wearing off too quickly and, as I was by her head making sure she was OK, I would be the first person she would see if she were to wake up! Fortunately all went well and she came round from her slumber fine. She is settling back into captive life well, although it is sad to think that she has been separated from her cub. Wakanaka is however doing splendidly well by herself as she has integrated fully into the pride. She was seen today playing around with Nala and Narnia (much to Nala’s distaste!) and hanging out with the dominant members of the pride. She even stole some food from the alpha female and growled at her when the female came to retrieve her lunch! I am sure she will do fantastically well as an adult lioness.