An update on the introduction of lionesses to Liuwa
It is just over two months since two young lionesses were released into their new home at Luiwa following their translocation from Kafue National Park. The introduction is intrinsic to the plan to promote a breeding population of lions after our famous "last lioness” Lady Liuwa failed to produce offspring of her own. It was hoped that Lady Liuwa, having failed to have cubs, would take the youngsters under her wing (so to speak), however the laws of survival have dictated otherwise.
The two lionesses adapted well after being released into the Liuwa boma last October. It took little time for the resident male lions to discover their presence and initial encounters across the fence were filled with roars and aggression. Days later Lady Liuwa arrived to inspect the new arrivals, and intrigued, she settled alongside the boma, leaving only when she had to hunt. She climbed trees, seemingly trying to find ways to get closer to the youngsters, and appeared protective, showing aggression when the male lions approached.
Lady Liuwa pacing outside the boma - interested and seemingly protective
Within the boma the young lionesses were fed wildebeest carcasses and their body condition improved. On 1 December, one month after the translocation, Liuwa management decided that nothing would be gained by keeping the lions enclosed longer. With the team watching with baited breath, the youngsters were lured out of their enclosure with a wildebeest carcass. Lady Liuwa, was waiting nearby and rushed to the carcass too. A heart-stopping show of aggression ensued as Lady Liuwa fought for control of the wildebeest and to show her dominance. Within minutes the skirmishes were over but Lady Liuwa remained nearby, restless and assertive, keeping constant watch over the lionesses' movements.
Lady Liuwa fights for control over the wildebeest carcass
Wary of the adult lions, the young lionesses disappeared into the bush and spent their first night hidden in tall grass. However, a bigger challenge was to come. On the second night out they encountered the Liuwa males who reacted with aggression - snarling, biting and raking at the newcomers. Such violent encounters between lions are not unusual and fortunately there were no serious injuries. Needless to say the youngsters have kept a wide birth of the male lions and Lady Liuwa since.
Now deep into the wet season the lionesses are learning to cope on their own, stealing food from hyenas and hunting small prey species. Despite the rainy season hampering movement in the park, our wildlife team has been able to monitor them weekly using VHF tracking devices. They have watched them chasing a group of 17 hyenas to steal their food, witnessed them bonding with each other and observed long hours of sleep! In the rain, through mud and pans and with little sleep, they have made an unrelenting effort to ensure the lionesses are safe. And just as a concerned father with teenage daughters would, one of our team members remarked: "These girls are giving me grey hair!”
The story of the Liuwa lionesses is far from over and the next six months will be a critical period as they adapt and learn to hunt on the Liuwa Plains. So far they have stayed away from Lady Liuwa, yet remain within her territory. Stay tuned as the story develops…
The two Liuwa males are in their prime and not to be encountered lightly. The young lionesses are keeping their distance for now
Date: 10 Feb 2012