The Last Lioness

An extraordinary lioness known as Lady Liuwa who lived in Liuwa Plain National Park in Zambia, has passed away. She was discovered having died of natural causes on August 9, 2017 one day before World Lion Day, she was thought to be 17 years old. Lady Liuwa was well-known as the lioness who survived the odds as the last of her species in a place where every other single lion had been wiped out by hunting and poaching. She survived alone without a pride, seeking out human companionship in her profound loneliness. African Parks made several attempts to reintroduce other lions to the area beginning in 2007 and, after living for over 5 years without hearing or seeing another lion, Lady Liuwa finally had a chance of being with her own kind. Never able to have cubs of her own, she helped raise the many cubs from another reintroduced lioness named Sepo.

The story of her early years was told in the National Geographic documentary The Last Lioness.

Since the film was released other lions had been reintroduced back into the park but not without complications and loss. Despite the insurmountable odds Lady Liuwa survived, a true symbol of strength, courage, forgiveness and tolerance. Importantly she did not die alone and leaves an established pride that is a sign of hope for her species if humans are willing to work together to allow them to live as they should, wild and free from persecution. I believe that stories like this, and unique animals like Lady Liuwa, are not coincidences but rather a gift sent to impart a lesson for humans to learn and evolve from.

A touching tribute to this great lioness was posted by African National Parks, the full dedication Remembering Lady Liuwa can be read here.

“Lady Liuwa was a truly exceptional lioness, so much so that it is impossible to do justice to her in words” said Peter Fearnhead, CEO of African Parks. “Oftentimes she would lie just five meters away from our camp-fire in the middle of the park. When it came time to go to bed, she would follow, walking parallel to the path and then fall asleep in front of one of our tents. In the mornings, we would find her in a tree, just watching but never threatening us. After years of being solitary, and after several reintroduction’s and careful management, we were finally able to unite her with her own kind. While her passing saddens us all, she leaves behind a legacy of survival in the small but growing pride in Liuwa Plain”.

Tribute by Rob Reid, prior Park Manager of Liuwa Plain – “As you meander slowly over the crisp earth towards them you can always recognize Lady from a distance, the way she cocks her head to the side, waiting for you, expecting you; that’ll be Lady. And it was true; she didn’t look at you like a lion – there was none of that bone chilling stare, head held high, alert “through you” sort of look. She would give you a sort of gentle titled head view, a relaxed and familiar pose. A look that had seen it all, and been through thousands of nights of loneliness. But that look – the sharing of space, with you – an outsider; there was that…She was an anomaly, an orphan, that had somehow survived the odds of the harshness of the African bush. And although her entire pride had been wiped out by illegal hunting, she found friendship in humanity, and later with an adopted pride. She was a bridge perhaps between what should have been in our Eden and what we see so much around us today.”

Lions and Elephants

To mark World Lion Day I thought I would share a few more of my photos from my trip last year to Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe. Lions are under threat and their numbers are declining rapidly – habitat loss, poaching, trophy hunting, human-wildlife conflict, the lion bone trade, cub petting, canned hunting, human population are all factors. Photo’s like these are a reminder of what a privilege and thrill it is to see them in the wild. Nothing beats shooting wildlife with a camera.

“If one should be a prey, how much the better
To fall before the lion than the wolf.” – Shakespeare, Twelfth Night

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Lions, World Lion Day, ethical tourism, travel, Africa, Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe, endangered species, wildlife photography

Lions, World Lion Day, ethical tourism, travel, Africa, Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe, endangered species, wildlife photography

Lions, World Lion Day, ethical tourism, travel, Africa, Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe, endangered species, wildlife photography

Lions, World Lion Day, ethical tourism, travel, Africa, Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe, endangered species, wildlife photography

Lions, World Lion Day, ethical tourism, travel, Africa, Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe, endangered species, wildlife photography

Lions, World Lion Day, ethical tourism, travel, Africa, Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe, endangered species, wildlife photography

The Lion and The Leopard

For those of you who follow Purr and Roar on Facebook you would have seen this post this morning. At first glance I thought it was fake, but turns out to be an unbelievable, legitimate, sighting. If there weren’t the photos to back it up no one would believe it. Article as published in BBC News. Enjoy!

A never before seen sighting of a lioness, called Nosikitok, a mother to her own three cubs born in June, spotted nursing a leopard cub thought to be about the same age as her own cubs.

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Lion expert Dr Luke Hunter told the BBC the images are a once-in-a-lifetime sight– Image © Joop Van Der Linde/Ndutu Lodge

This is unheard of as lions and leopards are natural mortal enemies, most lions will kill leopard cubs if given the chance as a way of eliminating the competition. The lucky person who photographed the pair was Joop Van Der Linde, a guest at Ndutu Safari Lodge in Tanzania’s Ngorongoro Conservation Area.

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Lion expert Dr Luke Hunter told the BBC the images are a once-in-a-lifetime sight – Image © Joop Van Der Linde/Ndutu Lodge

The lioness is fitted with a GPS collar and is part of the KopeLion project which aims to “to foster human-lion coexistence in Ngorongoro Conservation Area.” Unusual animal pairs are not uncommon but this is something that has baffled and surprised the experts.

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The lioness Nosikitok recently had her second litter of cubs
– Image © Joop Van Der Linde/Ndutu Lodge

Dr Luke Hunter, President and Chief Conservation Officer for Panthera, a global wild cat conservation organization which supports Kope Lion, told the BBC the incident was “truly unique”. He also goes on to say that he is not aware of this type of relationship having ever occurred between different species of big cats.

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The local safari lodge says that there is a resident female leopard in the area who they think may have cubs. With luck, the tiny leopard will soon be back with its natural mother – Image © Joop Van Der Linde/Ndutu Lodge

Dr Hunter says that she found the leopard cub not far, about a kilometer, from where here own cubs are hidden. “She’s encountered this little cub, and she’s treated it as her own. She’s awash with maternal hormones, and this fierce, protective drive that all lionesses have – they’re formidable mums.”

They are anxiously awaiting the outcome and, fingers are crossed that this little leopard finds his or her way safely back to mum.

33 Lions

If you missed 60 minutes last night please watch the update on the 33 Lions rescued by Animal Defenders International, part of a massive, and first of its kind, undertaking to rescue all wild animals from Peru and Colombia’s illegal circuses. 60 minutes shows exclusive footage from the rescue as the lions are prepared for their fights to Africa. While the video shows the amazing rescue and how the lions are doing, there are some disturbing images showing the abusive treatment that the animals were subjected to by the circus. As always, please avoid circuses and attractions that use animals for entertainment, when the public stops supporting these establishments the abuse will stop to.

Click here or on image for video

60 minutes, Lions, Lion rescue, 33 Lions, ADI, Animal Defenders International, Lions rescued from lions from Peru and Colombia back to their native Africa, Big Cats, Circus, Africa, Operation Spirit of Freedom, Emoya Big Cat Sanctuary“ADI’s Operation Spirit of Freedom is the biggest operation of its kind, collaborating with Peru authorities to enforce its law banning wild animal circuses and raiding circuses all over the country. As part of its ongoing mission, ADI saved 109 animals from circuses and the illegal wildlife trade in Peru.”

For updates on how the lions are doing, and how you can help, please visit Emoya Big Cat Sanctuary.

Lion Queens

Protecting Lions in India’s Gir National Park, Forest is a serious job and one that a has been taken on by a group of women known as the ‘Lion Queens’.

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The Lion Queens of India – Image Sakal Times

The Lion Queens started in 2007 when the state of Gujarat decided to employ a small group of women in the forestry department in Gir National Park. Instead of taking ‘desk jobs’ the women opted to take on the extremely tough but rewarding roles as forest guards.  Today 46 women forest guards working right on the front line, a further 43 women have been recruited and are going through intensive training right now.

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Working and risking their lives to protect wildlife. ImageThe Hindu

Gir is home to the highly endangered Gir Lions as well as a host of other wildlife including leopards, crocodiles, deer, snakes and Hyena. The Lion Queens rescue Lions, and other wildlife, arrest poachers, work with local villagers to reduce human-wildlife conflict, bottle feed leopard cubs and overcome dangers almost every day in their jobs.

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Gir is the sole home of the Asiatic lions (Panthera leo persica) about 523 of them, and is considered to be one of the most important protected areas in Asia due to its supported species. Image Vishwa Gujarat

One of the toughest of the Lion Queens is Rasila Vadher, who now heads up the entire wildlife rescue team, can be seen here in this video which gives you a taste of what these amazing ladies do to keep wildlife and people safe.

The Hairy Princess

Botswana’s Chief’s Island in the Okavango Delta is home to some spectacular wildlife, and if you are lucky enough to visit you may even get a glimpse of some very special big cats. The Lion prides that call the Delta home contain some rare and unique female pride members who just happen to have manes.

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A maned lioness in the Mombo area of Botswana’s Okavango Delta. Photograph courtesy Deon De Villiers. Image – National Geographic.com

Maned Lioness and a safari favorite known as Martina, was last seen in 2002 in the Mombo region of the Moremi Games Reserve in the Delta but, since then the area seems to have been a hot spot for these unique felines. It is thought that the Lions in this area carry a genetic predisposition towards the trait and could be related. Mmamoriri, or The Hairy Princess, who resides in the same region, has garnered a lot of attention and has also become the first maned Lioness to be studied.

While maned females look different they are still seen by their prides as a Lioness. In fact, they may be seen as both providers (who bring down prey) and protectors (predators see them as male Lions).

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Mmamoriri, the maned Lioness, being greeted affectionately by the other Lionesses in the pride. © Robynne Kotzee – Image Africa Geographic

Theory suggests that the trait can be attributed to a disruption of the embryo at either conception (genetic contribution from the sperm was abnormal and caused a female to have male characteristics) or, when in the womb (the fetus was exposed to high levels of male hormones). In 2013 Simon Dures a PhD researcher on the genetic diversity of Lion populations in northern Botswana, and Dr. Erik Verreynne conducted the first ever physical examination of Mmamoriri. At the time of the study her pride consisted of a “single male, five females and two cubs approximately three months old.”

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Mmamoriri the Lioness, being darted for study, demonstrated both male and female behavior. Image – Wilderness Safari’s

Mmamoriri was sedated and her measurements taken along with a blood sample for a full genetic and hormonal analysis. During the examine it was noted she had fully intact female genitalia, however they could not determine if she had undescended testicles.

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Mmamoriri also has a slightly larger body size than other females – Image Simon Dures via Wilderness Safari’s

The research around Mmamoriri is still ongoing but the blood work revealed that she is ‘genetically’ a female (that happens to have male features). Simon Dures told Africa Geographic that the trait could be due to a genetic condition which resulted in exposing the developing fetus to excess male hormones in the womb. This would also lead to male characteristics like a mane or larger than average body size.

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Mmamoriri is the maned Lion hanging onto the back of the buffalo – her larger size was reported to be an advantage while hunting large prey and defending kills from hyenas. © Kai Collins – Image Africa Geographic

Data from the study has revealed that Lions in the Okavango Delta are more isolated than other Lions in Botswana which means there is a limited amount of new genetic material coming in. Over time the isolation may cause traits like Mmamoriri’s to increase and if she, and any females like her, are proven to be infertile it could become a problem for Lion populations in the area. Simon Dures states that “any Lions with the condition are essentially removed from the gene pool, reducing the breeding population, and thus increasing the risk of population decline.”

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Mmamoriri resting on Chief’s Island in the Okavango Delta. © Robynne Kotzee – Image Africa Geographic

Lions in the Okavango Delta face pressures from human-wildlife conflict outside protected areas, retaliatory killings for cattle predation and, in the northern section of Chief’s Island they also have to contend with rising water levels which play a role in keeping them isolated.

While this unique and fascinating trait exhibited my Mmamoriri and those like her is not an immediate threat to the Lion population, it will be vital to ensure wildlife corridors are properly maintained to allow these predators to move freely to and from new areas bringing with them fresh genetic material that will enable their survival.

Video of the Western Pride at Little Mombo on Chief’s Island with their two cubs, about three months old, and the maned lioness, Mmamoriri seen on the right.

Maned Lionesses have been documented in the Serengeti and also in captivity. In 2011 a 13-year-old Lioness at the National Zoological Gardens of South Africa began growing a mane. The Lioness, named Emma, was examined and it was found that she had elevated testosterone levels, after her ovaries were removed (the cause of the extra male hormone) she gradually lost her mane.

The Reveal

Last month it was made public that the best preserved remains ever discovered of the long extinct Cave Lion had been found in the remote region of Sakha (Yakutia) Republic of Siberia. The two Cave Lion cubs were celebrated as a ‘sensational’ find due to the fact that they were almost perfectly preserved with fur and tissue still intact. Interestingly, digging up species from another time can sometimes come with hazards, in the form of  ancient diseases like anthrax, fortunately the cubs remains were tested after being discovered and cleared of any dangerous pathogens.

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One of the two Cave Lion cubs revealed – All Images Siberian Times  unless otherwise noted

The reveal finally happened this week when the cubs were proudly displayed for the media and the world. The cubs will be given names in honor of Uyandina river where they were found:  Uyan and Dina if male and female; Uyana and Dina if both are found to be females; or, Uyan and Din if they are both males. Further testing will now commence to determine the actual cubs age, however they are thought to be at least 12,000 years old.

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Preserved so well you can see the whiskers very clearly. The cubs are thought to have been only about a few weeks old at the time of death.

At time of death the cubs eyes were not fully open and some of their ‘baby teeth’ had come in. Due to their excellent state of preservation Scientist speculate that they could have possibly died soon after being born and hidden in a hole. The area could have been covered by a landslide protecting and sealing the cubs off from the elements, the permafrost would have then prevented any further deterioration.

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Paws and claws of an extinct Cave Lion

Although the news report said scientist weren’t going to discuss ‘cloning’ at this time, as their main goal was to “decipher the genome and work with it”, it doesn’t sound like they have completely discounted the idea altogether. While the glimpse these two cubs may give us into the species and their long-lost world is utterly fascinating, I don’t believe we have a right to try to bring back any long ago extinct species when our current ones are struggling to survive. Modern Lions, and other wildlife, face so many threats and are so perilously close to extinction today we should learn what we can from the past but not resurrect it.

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The cubs are said to be the size of “plump house cats”

In the meantime Scientist are looking to work with specialist who are “experienced in the research of cubs” and, investigate the special adaptations the Cave Lions developed in order to survive in the extreme, harsh and cold climate. Next year researchers plan to return to the same site to search for the possible remains of a third cub and maybe the Lioness.

Discoveries like this one will often touch on the topic of cloning. Let me know your thoughts on this in the comments below – cloning a long ago extinct species: good or bad idea?