No One Left Behind

Animal Defenders International (ADI) recently hosted the Canadian premier of Lion Ark, a documentary that takes a raw and intense look at ADI’s work in Bolivia to track down and rescue all animals being kept in illegal circuses. Despite the serious nature of the film Lion Ark is truly a feel-good story filled with hope and, it gives us a look at what can happen when humans decide animals should no longer be exploited as an ‘act’ under the Big Top.

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Q&A session with ADI’s Jan Creamer and Tim Phillips following the screening. Image – Teddy Ing

Prior to the screening I sat down with ADI’s Rescue Team Leaders and founders Jan Creamer and Tim Phillips to talk about the film, circuses, their rescue work and why ADI will never leave an animal behind.

For those who don’t know, what is Lion Ark about?

JC Lion Ark tells the story of the rescue of 25 lions from Bolivia following ADI’s undercover investigation of the suffering of animals in circuses and a campaign to get animal circuses banned. It shows how we worked with local wildlife officials and police to seize the animals once legislation was passed in Bolivia. The law gave circuses a year to stop using animals and for those circuses that defied the law, there were 8 of them, ADI went in to seize the animals.

TP It’s a film people shouldn’t be afraid to watch it – come to see it, cheer on the lions, and also enjoy some moments that will make you laugh out loud. It shows what can be achieved when people pull together to help animals and sometimes in the least expected places.

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With regards to the ban Jan says that “Bolivia got there first because President Morales wanted it, he made it clear.” Family of eight lions, crammed into a circus cage. Image ©ADI

What was the emotional and physical impact like on those working on this rescue?

JC There was the stress of long journeys over mountains, jungles and various circumstances and, there was tension around rescuing the animals, worrying would the circus find out that we were coming and would they escape. Then when you finally see the animals themselves it’s just an enormous sense that we have to get them, we have to save them there can be no failure. That’s the biggest emotion we had. It’s a lot of pressure and we have to be determined that we do not leave these animals, there is that one chance that if we leave without them we have lost them forever.

Are there any lions in particular whose story stood out during the rescue?

TP Interesting that during the making of the Lion Ark we filmed all the lions everyday and we were able to see how they changed. With these large groups of lions you got to see their different personalities and you noticed how they were like people’s dogs and cats, there were playful ones and timid ones. There was a lioness called India and she had never been out of a tiny cage, it was the size of a single bed and she was frightened to leave it. Many of these animals were frightened to leave their cage so we thought she was going to be the ‘story’ but slowly this incredibly aggressive lion called Colo Colo emerged as the hero. He tried to attack us and was defiant to the end but we all warmed to him because he’d never been broken by the circus, so it’s especially poignant when he goes free at the end.

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A solitary lioness, India, looks on as the rescue team negotiate her rescue. Image ©ADI

It’s been a number of years since the rescue, can you say that your work in Bolivia is done?

JC In terms of animal circuses in they are done, Bolivia has a ban on all domestic and wild animals in circuses. When circuses try to enter the country with animals then they won’t be allowed to take them into perform. Where there have been circuses trying to travel with animals we are pleased that the government is determined to enforce the law to ensure there are no animals performing in a circus.

TP ADI tries to rigorously enforce these laws like we did in Bolivia, and because of public support others saw these bans could be successful, we then did the same thing in Peru and have begun operations in Colombia. By going after all the circuses we do not leave the country until we have rescued every single animal so it’s a really clear messages – ‘if you come with wild animals in your circuses to Peru or Bolivia they are going to seized by ADI. So it completely removes the incentive of trying to get around the law, in Peru we tracked and chased circuses for almost two years. Anyone who slipped through the net we found and then rescued every single animal.

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On February 16 2011, in a historic world first, Animal Defenders International flew the 25 rescued lions from eight circuses in Bolivia to their new home at the Wild Animal Sanctuary in Colorado. Image – Daily Mail UK

Why do you think audiences have been so receptive to Lion Ark?

JC Lion Ark was done differently, we wanted to tell the story of the animals and make them the stars, the film is really a mixture of facts and genuine emotions. We also wanted people to get up close and personal to feel that they had a direct connection with the lions on the screen. You see the animals as we found them and you see the joy of the animals as they start to become individuals again. They are no longer terrified shells and they develop into lions – I think that’s what grips people. We are just an ordinary group of people who wanted to make a difference for animals and we chose not to go the route of looking for a celebrity to do a voice over, we decided to make the film raw and I think that is also part of its appeal.

A example of ADI’s commitment to ensure no animal is left behind is the rescue of Mufasa the mountain lion in Peru. What was that like?

JC We had seen him years earlier during the investigation and what was interesting on that particular day is that we had gone to get other animals but didn’t realize he was there. It was the truck that we recognized as Tim and I had seen him in the truck years before when he appeared in our investigation. We didn’t know whether we would find him, but when we drove up to pick up the other animals we realized it was him so Tim and I jumped out, stood in front of and behind the pick up to stop him from getting away.

TP You are going into remote and challenging places in terms of surveillance with these rescues. Mufasa was the last circus seizure but they almost got away, we were there from about 8:30 AM to sunset and that was when we got the animals out. It was a really aggressive confrontation, we had the riot police turn up, but we would not leave until we had those animals no matter what abuse or threats were held against us, our team will hold the line. Mufasa, who was a very old man by then, had the final part of his life back in the forest where he belonged. Sadly he passed away eight months after the rescue, however he did so back in the forest and not on metal in the back of the truck.

Why do you think it is important to highlight the rescues of big cats in circuses?

TP All animals suffer in circuses, whether wild or domestic – lions, tiger, camels, zebras and so on suffer appallingly from the deprivation. There seems to be more violence inflicted and more frustration of movement for some of these wild animals, but all animals suffer when they are living in temporary accommodations or when moving from place to place whether in the U.S., Europe or South America – all the animals live the same.

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Kimba, dumped by the circus in a zoo, where he lived alone for 11 years. The ADI team had to to knock down a wall and cut through the bars to rescue him. Image ©ADI

The violence and some of the suffering we uncover goes unseen, for example when a lion gets aggressive or is being trained they are usually coming at the person front first. They get hit with metal bars and get broken teeth (almost all the lions we rescued in Peru had their teeth smashed) and those teeth are never treated, so some of these animals sit there in their cage in pain for life or, if the teeth become infected it can kill them. Another lion had been beaten about the head and was brain-damaged he had no sense of distance – so there is a huge amount abuse of these animals.

It is important for people to get behind getting rid of all these animals from circuses and not favor certain species as there is no evidence that any animal suffers more or less than others, camels are treated poorly, lions and tigers live metal boxes on the back trucks and they are regularly beaten. Just recently one tiger got out in Georgia and was shot, that’s their fate if they get out or become to aggressive, or if they just behave in a minor way as nature intended then they will be probably be beaten or possibly killed.

What are your thoughts on the Ringling Brothers circus?

JC  They have had every opportunity to change their acts. ADI did a study where it showed that in an average two-hour show the animals occupy about 15 minutes  – it is very easy to change to human acts. So Ringling Brothers had the choice, they have known their audience is going down, they knew they could replace the animals with human acts and the audience would like that because they disapproved of the animals, but they chose not to. They would rather close than move with the times.

Can you talk about the incident that took the lives of two of the rescued lions?

JC ADI took 33 lions to Africa at the tail end of our Columbia and Peru rescue, nine from Columbia and 24 lions from Peru. We wanted all of these animals to go back to their natural habitats wherever possible and we were pleased to do that for all except the Tiger Hoover who had to a go a lovely sanctuary in Florida. The 33 lions went to Emoya Big Cat Sanctuary in South Africa where we have been caring for them ever since. Tragically, we suffered a recent devastating loss when a few months ago poachers broke into the sanctuary and killed two of the lions José and Liso.

This is something we have been tracking and we told the South African government when they made their decision to continue the lion bone trade, that it would paint a target on the heads of all of captive animals including ones in sanctuaries. There’s been a huge increase this year in attacks in animals held privately in sanctuaries because they look like easy targets and although sanctuaries have been increasing their security it is a huge risk for all of us.

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José and Liso napping in their enclosure at Emoya Big Cat Sanctuary in South Africa

What precautions are you now taking at the sanctuary?

JC We swore that we that when they killed José and Liso that we would be relentless in our pursuit of the criminals and, we have continued to work with the strong police investigation currently going on. We have increased our security massively, it costs about $7,000 a month on physical security and that’s men with guns. If we sense the threat is increasing and getting closer to us we have improved electronic security at various levels and men will sleep close to the lions. We want people to know that there are two important targets, the first is, José and Liso are going to get justice by ensuring we catch and prosecute the people responsible and second, we have absolute top security for our lions to make sure everyone else is safe. That has been our focus for the last two months.

Since the poaching incident is ADI rethinking South Africa as a safe haven for lions?

TP There is simply not enough homes for these animals around the world. If we say these animals don’t got to Africa  – they aren’t going to be rescued and will end up dying in circus cages. The reality is this is where these animals live and we must get used to protecting them in their natural habitat otherwise it’s going to be used as an excuse to continue to plunder animals from the wild, put them in western zoos and say they are going to be safer.

There were no reports in the media between 2014 and 2015 of any lions being killed this way in private sanctuaries, then in 2016 there were 18 attacks, this year there have been 22. It’s a massive escalation and is already spilling into other countries. We must catch these people and we must boost the security, but we cannot throw our hands up and simply say we will send them all to the U.S.

People must think of how important these very big scale rescues are, they are not symbolic and just rescuing worst cast, we are trying to eliminate entire industries and make sure it doesn’t happen again. If we are going to do that we need as many homes open to these animals as possible and you cannot beat their natural habitats if available.

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“A number of animal protection groups have been using South Africa as a sanctuary location for animals, we cannot close that door we must find a way to make it safe.” Image ©ADI

JC We have to take on the poachers, the animal protection movement has to now stand up and say we are going to take them on and crush poaching. We must also work to crush the markets for wildlife products like lions bones, Chinese medicine and trophies. All markets must be closed in the both Western and Asian countries.

How can people get involved in helping circus animals?

JC  The best way is to go to ADI’s Facebook page and take the actions we suggest – send emails, write letters, educate, speak to legislatures, use social media, reach out to others in school or at work and get them on board. If everyone works together and supports ADI in one way then, we can save these animals. It’s about the numbers of people speaking up and deciding enough is enough, as well as taking steps to ensure governments protect these animals.

TP If people can support us financially it makes a huge difference. We are essentially running a global sanctuary and these large-scale rescues mean no one is left behind. It’s a huge challenge and ADI is a small organization where we empty entire countries, we did that in Peru with people donating $10, $20, $30 at a time. If people can host a small or large fundraiser, adopt one of our animals or donate it makes a massive difference. If they can do that we will go out to rescue these animals and enforce these laws.

ADI has launched, with the support of Moby, the José and Liso anti-poaching fund to make sure the poachers are caught and to create wider anti-poaching initiatives. If people can support this initiative, we can ensure all funds will go to directly to this fight.

 Lion Ark is now available on DVD

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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.