It’s Monday 3rd September 2012 and the lions are released at Majete

Hope you have had a brilliant weekend and are ready for the week ahead!  The guys at Mkulumadzi have had quite an exciting week with the release of “our” lions, so let’s hear from Emma all about it!

“The last week has been very exciting for us with the long awaited release of the lions! It has felt like everything has been leading up to this pinnacle with months and months of preparation which when it came round to the day seemed to happen seamlessly. This is a testament to all the hard work that African Parks has put into the release.

The lions landed on the 30th July in Malawi and were kept in quarantine for a few weeks during which time their condition was regularly monitored. Andre Uys, the vet who translocated the lions, recounted the story of their capture and voyage over a barbeque the night before the release. The males started to wake up whilst inflight and were wiggling their way towards a very nervous journalist and pilot but luckily Andre was on hand to top up their sedative. Sadly, as many of you know, one of the females did not survive the arduous journey under sedation, despite having hands and vets to spare.

Mkulumadzi lodge

We had Mr. Kamoto from African Parks and his team come round to “let the cat out the bag” (sorry I couldn’t resist) about lions and give our staff a very interesting and vital sensitization talk a few weeks before the release. Many of them have only ever heard folk tales about lions and it was important to dispel any fears about them ahead of the big day. We were shown a fascinating film about walking with lions and were instructed on what to do if we ever came across them, which I’m sure you can imagine created a fair bit of buzz and excitement!

Finally the big day came round. Everyone loaded up into closed vehicles (as the lions could be fairly unimpressed when they woke up), to take part in the action. Andre darted Shire, the female, from outside the boma then drove in to dart the males. Once immobilized they had to be fully checked over, especially as Dr. Anthony Hall Martin mentioned that they suspected Sapitwa, the dominant male, may have had a cyst on his chest. Fortunately for him, it turns out that he’s only a bit too chubby and could do with some exercise!

Andre getting ready to sedate the trioLoaded into the vehicle

Their health was excellent, their collars checked and we were allowed to get up close and personal with the three very large cats.They were loaded into vehicles with the help of Ton and his brother in laws and driven up to the release site just a short distance south from the Mkulumadzi, in our private concession, where a fresh impala carcass was waiting for them.

Ton & his brother in lawsFast asleep

Andre getting up closeOne of the lions massive paws

Andre administered the reversal drug, which took about 15 – 20 minutes to take effect. Shire woke up first followed by a very dozy and wobbly Sapitwa. Once awake they started feeding on the impala and there was even a scrap over breakfast as they had been on a strict diet a few days before the release to ensure that they would be ravenous once out.

Andre administering the reversal drugWakey wakey

Still drowsyAll three awake

We have had Helge Bendl, a photographic journalist, here to capture the release. He was kind enough to give us these photographs of them and saw the lions later on in the afternoon on Saturday.

Watching the trioTucking in to breakfast

YumSome ones not sharing

Impala being enjoyed by allGetting their share of the impala

Since then, they’ve moved about 2kms upstream of the Mkulumadzi Riveron Saturday nigh tand we suspect they made a kill and stuck around the area they were release on Sunday. On Monday, Sapitwa and Chimwala moved west and went exploring.

Sapitwa and Chimwala moved back east to the Mkulumadzi Riveron Monday night and had a drink. They seem to be patrolling in the northwest sector checking out their new home and perhaps looking for other lions. Shire has been spotted on her own a few times as she has stayed put. She has also made a kill, a young female reedbuck, which is good news.

The lions are going to be closely monitored over the next few months and with any luck will breed and have cubs within 9-12 months. They are being monitored through satellite collars and on the ground to see where they establish themselves. The collars are giving a waypoint every 2 hours for now, which is very handy when planning walking safaris, but once they settle they will be set to every 4 hours as with the released leopards.

The re-introduction of these lions into the Majete Wildlife Reserve isan important piece of the puzzle in terms of completing a functioning ecosystem. They seem to be very at ease with vehicles due to their habituation in South Africa where they came from, which will hopefully help to generate tourism for Malawi.

We hope that they will be very happy here in their new home and look forward to all the adventures and stories that they will bring.”

Fantastic news Emma! Thanks for sharing it with us! So there you have it, Majete Wildlife Reserve is now officially a big 5 game park, the only one in Malawi and we couldn’t be more pleased that we were able to achieve this. Apart from Robin Pope Safaris, the translocation of the lions was also made possible by Flitecare, a South African based charter company and we would like to extend our thanks to them!

Before I sign off I’d like to remind you of our photo competition. We have received some great entries so far! If you would like to enter, take a look at our website for more information.

Well that’s it for me. Here’s hoping you have a splendid week!

Emily

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