As 2007 draws to a close it gives us all a chance to reflect. For ALERT, that is a look back at the most exciting and challenging year in the program’s history.
In stage one we have seen the lions make six kills on walks during the day, including an African Jacarna, two warthog, two baboons and a buffalo. However it is at night with lions aged between 18 months and two a half years old that we have seen the most progress. Lions on Night Encounters have achieved a hunting success rate of 45% so far in 2007 and have successfully hunted 47 animals: 6 birds, 2 mongoose, 1 spring hare, 7 rabbits, 5 steenbok, 2 common duiker, 2 blesbok, 11 impala, 2 ostrich, 1 red hartebeest, 1 tsessebe, 6 wildebeest and 1 zebra.
In addition, during both the day and night the lions have jumped on, but either let escape or been unable to bring the animal down due to its size, a further 52 animals; 4 monitor lizards, 8 rabbits, 2 steenbok, 3 warthog, 2 common duiker, 6 impala, 1 reedbuck, 1 ostrich, 3 wildebeest, 2 kudu, 3 buffalo and 17 zebra.
Our breeding stock has also been extended either through bringing in new lions, or from some of our existing lions reaching breeding age. The breeding stock now stands at 19 individuals and represents 13 patriarchal and 13 matriarchal blood lines. This extension allows us to create diverse gene pools in our release groups which will ultimately provide strong blood lines when we release into stage four of the program.
On the 29th of August ALERT released the first pride of lions into stage two of the program at the Dollar Block reserve in Zimbabwe, and special thanks goes to the owners and staff of that reserve for their part in making this release possible. The pride made their first kill on the morning of day four, taking an eland, Africa’s largest antelope. They have since made a number of other kills including an adult giraffe and are well on their way to meeting the first of the criteria for success in stage two, that of becoming fully self-sustainable. This should be considered remarkable progress from the captive-born cubs that they were. Our careful and dedicated programs have made this a reality.
However, as reported in our last newsletter, a new challenge has arisen following the death of two of the females in the pride. As stated we will give even more focus to research into sociality within release prides to ensure that males and females are socially compatible. We will dedicate our adaptive and considered energies to succeed. We have received many messages of support since our statement last month, and I would like to share some of those with you. We thank everyone who wrote to us offering their support and encouragement.
"A sad end for two great lionesses but an end that becomes many in the wild. It must be awful for those who 'knew' them, however it is not like a finger of blame can ever be pointed. A unique, ground breaking and magnificent project is unfolding in front of our very eyes and unfortunately this kind of scenario can (and will) happen.... and over & over again the animals will make 'their' choice as they are essentially wild, as they should be. A sad interim period.... but hope remains because of the constant continual work. It's great that an organization can be so upfront and truthful about happenings.... and it's great to be part of such a magnificent cause.... .... long may it continue." Karin McKivitt
"It is so sad to learn about Muti & Mampara. The way you broke the news to us all was lovely and thoughtful, but please don't feel bad about it or make apologies, this is an ideal opportunity to learn from the good and bad things that happen along the way” Sarah Warner
"I did not know the cubs but my heart goes out to everyone who worked with them. …it appears as though the lions were behaving in a natural way, although this is not the kind of behaviour we would hope for it should not be seen as failure. These lions were raised by humans but are following natural instincts. We all know that you guys are navigating your way through uncharted territory as best as you can with the knowledge and skills you have. The project will succeed and I am so proud to say that I've been part of it." Helen Pepler
"The announcement you made was really well done and I just wanted to pass on some encouragement to you. ALERT is a fantastic program and, while any set back is disappointing, it can only help you learn, as you already know. I'm sure you'll get a lot of messages from people, but just wanted to send my condolences as well as support! Keep up the good work!" Kari Aley
“What awful news about Mampara and Muti - I was shocked and felt really sad. But then you have to realize that all of this is such an unknown…. And it does make you realize that these are wild animals with instincts we do not fully understand and cannot control ...” Karen Partridge
2007 also saw the development of the Conservation Centre for Wild Africa (CCWA) and the ALERT Communities Trust (ACT) within ALERT, with the intention of broadening our role in sustainable conservation. Whilst CCWA aims to look at the broader eco-system within which the lion exists, ACT looks at providing communities with economic and social benefits from the presence of conservation areas such that they have reason to conserve those areas into the future. Already both divisions have implemented a number of programs towards their specific aims, and we hope, with additional funding in 2008, that both will flourish and add great long term, sustainable value to the ALERT program.
This past year also saw awareness of the program in the global community extend further than ever before. We thank the many media organizations who have taken the time to report on our progress, building awareness in countries as far flung as the UK and Germany to Singapore and Australia. Special thanks go to The Pavement, and in particular Andy Evans, who made the ALERT DVD into a reality. In 2008 we are looking to extend this awareness through development of our web site and through a special documentary with a major broadcaster.
ALERT would also like to extend a special message of gratitude to Sir Ranulph Fiennes, who visited the program and attended the first stage two release, and has subsequently agreed to become a patron of ALERT UK. Ran & Louise, we thank you for your support and look forward to working with you both.
We are also extremely pleased, as announced in our last newsletter, that Dr. Don Heath has joined the program as a consultant ecologist alongside Dr. Pieter Kat, who has been working with us for some time. Their contribution to help us implement the most effective management policies is invaluable. We thank Keith Dutlow & Lisa Marabini, our consultant vets, who ensure that we maintain the highest standards in care for the lions. Thanks also to Jean Dubach of the Chicago Zoological Society who performed the DNA testing on the lions. And to everyone else, the many hundreds of people that have helped along the way, to the staff, the eco-tourists and consultants across the globe who have helped make 2007 such a hugely successful year for the program we extend our warmest gratitude.
Finally, special mention must go to Andrew & Wendy Conolly, founders of the lion release program, who work tirelessly, everyday to further our progress and instill in all of us their vision of a wild Africa for future generations.
And so we look forward to 2008 which is lining up to be even more exiting. Next year we hope to open up a further stage one in the Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park in Zambia, as well as two further stage two release sites, one in Zambia and one in Zimbabwe. Further, by the end of 2008 we also hope to be making good progress on completing our first stage three release area. We have been inundated with requests from governments and private reserves across the continent for more information about the program and offers of possible release sites; and so we are confident both in the need for our release program and also in its success.
ALERT is appreciative of all the support and donations received from across the globe, and we look forward to working with you all towards conserving a Wild Africa in 2008.
Kindest regards and wishing you a successful 2008
ALERT Chief Operating Officer