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Stage Two Release - the first four days

David Youldon


On Sunday 13th April 2008 ALERT released a pride of six females into our stage two release site at Dollar Block in Zimbabwe. Three of these females have been re-released following an initial release into the site in August last year where they have been successfully hunting, including eland, impala, warthog & giraffe.

Just before 11am on the 13th the six females (Ashanti, Kenge, Phyre – the original three and Athena, Nala & Narnia) were released and immediately started to explore. A CCWA research team is at the site to monitor the lions and we are also facilitating an independent researcher who is on secondment from the Zimbabwean Parks & Wildlife Authority and is studying with the University of Zimbabwe. This study will provide an independent review of our release protocols as well as looking at the role of captive lion breeding in lion conservation within Zimbabwe and the extent to which these lions withdraw from their human imprinting. The final aim of the study is to assist the Zimbabwean authorities create appropriate legislation within the country regarding captive lion breeding and the use of these animals, regulations that do not currently exist. It is ALERT’s hope that such regulation can be used not only to improve the situation for captive lions within Zimbabwe, but may also be used as a template to urge other countries with no applicable regulations to implement such.

Just before dark on the first night all six lionesses are found about 1½ km south of the release gate, resting next to a dry river bed. Nala is the most social of the six greeting Athena, Narnia and Phyre, the youngest of the original lions.

The following morning the pride is found at the far south of the release site by a water hole. They are lying asleep in a pile. As they wake there is a frenzy of social interactions that lasts 2 hours.

At 06:15AM on the morning of day 3 the females are on the Eland Vlei, location of the southern waterhole. All in all they seem to be getting on well as a pride and taking it very easy. At 11:55AM that day the pride is seen heading north. They have moved over 2km from where we left them this morning and are taking a tried and tested route to the northern waterhole another kilometre further north. Whilst Ashanti, Kenge & Phyre settle down for another nap, Athena, Nala & Narnia explore. For about 20 minutes they sniff around before rejoining the others. Nala & Narnia have a sisterly allo-grooming session. Then they all fall asleep. At 10:21PM: All six lions are back at the southern end and are highly active.

Early morning on day four we find the pride about 300m from the southern boundary in mixed mopane and acacia woodland. They have killed a wildebeest. From what is left we believe it to be a small adult female or a sub-adult with an estimated kill time around 5am. The three largest females clearly ate first as they are already sitting off to one side, except Phyre who has fallen asleep with her head in the carcass. Ashanti has clearly eaten the most but none of the lions seem overly fat. The pride spend the next day and a half lying about and exploring the southern half of the release area, led by Ashanti at all times. Late evening on the 15th Ashanti leads the pride on a march back up to the northern water hole.

The major observations from the first five days are:

1. The pride has remained together throughout and focussing their time around the two water holes with periods near a dry river bed in the centre of the site.
2. There has been almost no aggression shown between any of the lions. Any aggression has been no more than a quick growl when approached whilst the lion in question has been resting.
3. Ashanti is clearly still the pride alpha; most often deciding when the group moves, initiating many social interactions and also receiving many. Ashanti is also the most alert of all the lions, constantly checking the area around the pride when they are resting.
4. Athena tends to bring up the rear of the pride when they move with the smaller and younger females sandwiched between Ashanti & Athena.
5. The most social lions are Ashanti, Nala & Narnia (alpha & two youngest), whilst the females receiving the most attention are Ashanti, Athena & Phyre); the three largest.


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