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.

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 EU and Lions

Some good news to share regarding Lions, a positive step and one that will hopefully influence other countries to ban the importation of all Lion Trophies from everywhere.

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“No further imports of trophies from Benin, Burkina Faso and Cameroon will be allowed into the EU.”

Via Lion aid

Their new requirement for import permits for all lion trophies is a milestone in our fight for lions! Once this ruling is adopted, there will be no more lion trophies allowed into the EU from Benin, Burkina Faso or Cameroon. These western African lions are genetically distinct and highly endangered. There are only about 400 left now on the African continent. The CITES records show that the majority of western African lions shot as trophies are imported into France. So this new ruling may well prevent the extinction of these magnificent lions.” continuing reading here.

 

The Father Of Lions

Today is the 25th anniversary of the death of George Adamson, also know as Baba ya Simba, the Father of Lions. George along with his wife Joy provided my introduction to African Lions when I was a child and reading Joy’s books, starting with Born Free, would change my life forever. The moment I read about Elsa the Lioness I wanted to visit Africa to see Lions, a dream that I have had a privilege of living a few times over the years.

The passion for these big cats has never ceased, although it is now channeled into bringing awareness to the fact that Lions are on the verge of extinction, and that we must act fast to save them. Times have changed much since George’s day and I wonder how he would feel to see his beloved cats so close to the edge.

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George Adamson and Elsa

On 20 August 1989 George Adamson was murdered in Kenya, East Africa, by Somalian bandits when he went to the rescue of his assistant and a young European tourist in the Kora National Park.”

For a lovely tribute to George please visit Ace Bourke’s Blog. Ace Bourke along with his friend John Rendall had purchased a lion cub who they called Christian in the late 60’s at Harrods in London, a year later they brought Christian to Kenya where George Adamson rehabilitated the young Lion back to the wild.

The Barbary Lion

Existing only in history books, the Barbary Lion is wrapped in mystery and legend both for its magnificent appearance and uncertain fate.

Barbary Lions (Panthera Leo Leo) also called Atlas Lions, once roamed North Africa’s mountain ranges and were considered the largest of the lion sub-species. Larger than the African Lion that we know today, the males possessed a very distinct, well-known feature  – dark, thick full manes and were thought to have weighed 400 to 600 lbs.

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Photo: A Barbary lion from Algeria. Photographed by Sir Alfred Edward Pease around 1893.

Their beauty and power was admired by many from the Royal families of North Africa to the first humans to encounter them, the Egyptians and Berbers. Unfortunately for the Barbary Lion, the Roman Empire stepped in and dealt the species a brutal and bloody blow. The Lions were featured as the main event against Gladiators in Roman arenas, and over a period of 600 years thousands of Lions were killed for entertainment. The species were also considered vermin, hunted down by the Arab empire and European hunters with guns who quickly finished off the last of the wild Barbary Lions. Sounds like a familiar scenario doesn’t it?

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Barbary lion in a 1898 picture.

Barbary Lions were also taken to European Zoos and even did time in the Tower of London, but the extreme exploitation finally took its toll with the species succumbing and ceasing to exist in the wild in the early 1900’s.

Barbary Lions became extinct in Tripoli (western-Libya) as early as 1700, the last known Barbary lion in Tunisia was killed in 1891…in Algeria in 1893.. The last kill was recorded in 1942 on the northern side of the Tizi-n-Tichka pass in the Atlas Mountains, near the road between Marrakesh and Ouarzazat, two major tourist destinations today.” source The Sixth Extinction

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The Barbary Lion – 1800’s Wikimedia Commons

 Is the Barbary Lion truly extinct? Much speculation surround the possible existence of Barbary Lions with claims coming from Zoos, including the Rabat Zoo in Morocco, around the world who supposedly had them in their collections. In most cases the Lions were determined to be hybrids and not true Barbary Lions.

More recently it was discovered that they share a close genetic link to today’s living Asiatic Lions in India and that the Asiatic Lions could possibly be used to bring back the lost Barbary Lion.