The lions are here! They arrived last week and I’m finally posting the photos I’ve been promising. All of the lions have been given Chichewa names. This is one of the males – Chimwala which means big rock. I think it’s a fitting name. He is hard as nails and I sure wouldn’t want to mess with him.
The lions were flown to Malawi from South Africa. The two males (Chimwala and Sapitwa) were in one plane and the two females (Shire and Nakamba) in another. Sapitwa was named after the peak of Malawi’s Mt. Malanje which is known for being difficult to reach and is shrouded in mysticism and superstition. The two females were named after rivers that flow through the reserve. Unfortunately one female (Nakamba) did not make it through the journey. The combination of the medication used to sedate her along with the high altitude caused hypoxia (low blood oxygenation levels) and hypertension (increased blood pressure) which led to cardiac arrest. Lions are not generally moved over this large a distance by air so there was little past experience to draw on for this relocation. The wildlife veterinarians that accompanied them are planning to publish a paper about Nakamba’s death to share their findings. If more lions are moved in this manner they will wear oxygen masks for the duration of the flight to help counteract the effects of the medication and the altitude.
We were sad to lose Nakamba and this means that Shire will be the lone lioness in the reserve which will make building up a viable lion population more complicated. The senior project management are discussing options to increase the gene pool in the long run, in the meantime we are hoping the remaining three lions settle comfortably into their new home. Upon arrival the lions were transferred to pickups for the final leg of the journey. This is Shire just before her hour long drive to the reserve.
Once offloaded into the lion boma (a fenced enclosure), their breathing tubes and bandages from their drips were removed, they were fitted with tracking collars, and the sedative was reversed. You can see the breathing tubes in this photo of the two males. Check out the size of these beautiful cats. They are only three to three and a half years old so they will grow even larger!
Here you can see Chimwala and Shire hanging out in their new home. They will stay in this enclosure for three to four weeks and then be released into the larger reserve. While in the enclosure there is a team of scouts who are hunting for them to keep up with their twice a week feeding schedule. It’s strange for me to see my husband, the conservationist and wildlife lover, getting up at dawn to go hunting. The lions are being fed a diet of mostly waterbuck and impala since they are abundant in the reserve and we don’t want to encourage a taste for the antelope species we have in smaller numbers. Once they are released it will be up to them to hunt and we think they will continue to eat mostly antelope but they could go for other game like warthog, zebra, or buffalo. We are so thrilled to welcome these predators back to this habitat and hope it won’t be too long before there are some babies on the way!
You can read more about our preparations for the lions’ arrival and find some lion crafts for preschoolers here.