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Ngamo Lion Release - Update


David Youldon

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Its now been two months since the pride of eight lions were released. To assess how they are doing compared to lions in the wild research has been undertaken on a variety of behavioural factors including prey choice, hunting ability and strategy, average daily meat intake, territorial behaviours, activity and social behaviours, amongst others.

Some of these studies will take much longer to produce meaningful data, however early indications against one of the established criteria for success can be looked at. Whether the pride is capable of becoming self-sustaining.

Lehmann et al. (2008), studying a single pride of lions (mean number of animals = 8) in a small reserve at Karongwe, South Africa over a period of six years found that the pride made on average 21 kills per month with the pride females killing every 1.7 – 2.6 days. Funston et al. (1998) gave a figure of one kill every 1.8 nights for pride females in Kruger National Park.

The Ngamo pride have made a total of 35 kills during the first two months, making a kill on average every 1.71 days. This could be considered slightly below the expected, but a more useful statistic would be the average daily meat intake as the number of kills obviously does not take into account the size of the animals killed.

The mean daily meat intake for a wild adult lioness is highly variable; ranging from 3 to 14.5 kg/lion/day. Druce et al. (2004b) estimated 3 – 3.2 kg/lion/day in the Greater Makalali Conservancy ; Power (2003) estimated 4.1 – 4.6 kg /lion/day within Mabula Game Reserve; Viljoen (1993) estimated 4.6 - 5.6 kg/lion/day in the Savuti; Schaller (1972) 5kg/lion/day for the Serengeti, Bryden (1978) 5.1 kg /lion/day and Funston et al. (1998) 5.3 kg/lion/day in Kruger NP, whilst Van Schalkwyk (1994) proposed a figure of 6.4 +/- 2.2 kg/lion/day for six reserves in South Africa. At the highest range Lehmann et al. (2008) studying a solitary pride of lions at Karongwe Game Reserve estimated 6.9 – 12.1 kg/lion/day, Roxburgh (2008) 9.9kg/lion/day at Tswalu Kalahari Reserve, whilst Stander (1992) put forward a figure between 8.7 kg and 14.5 kg in Etosha NP, in each case the broad range being due to seasonal hunting differences by the lions.

We did see a greater number of kills in the first two weeks post-release with the lions achieving an average per day of 9.74kg. After that period the lions achieved a hunting pattern that seems to have normalized and are now at an average rate of 5.36kg in October and 6.37 over the whole period of release.

As such, at present we can conclude that the lions are killing at an expected rate although it is accepted that the size of the area in which they are released may increase the number of prey encounters compared to a wild pride, whilst distances within the site for prey to run do not increase the chances of success on an individual hunt.

Social behaviours suggest that Ashanti has retained her role as the dominant female whilst Phyre, who has matured since the pride was last released at the Dollar Block site, has also taken on a more dominant role within the social structure.

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