Below you will find a selection of articles written by Gulamabbas Mohamedali, a correspondent and columnist of the Tanzanian Sunday News. Please note that the articles include the opinion of the author which might not always reflect the opinion of Bushdrums.com.
Bushdrums.com would like to thank our member "Pippa" for researching and providing us with all this information.
When treated well lions become friendly to human beings.
Little is known about the cats’ sense of smell or taste. They apparently rely on olfaction to locate prey, as do other carnivores, but smell seems to be important when big cats communicate with other members of its own species.
It is believed that receptor sites take on odors, with each discernable odor having a unique receptor. These sites then send chemical/electrical messages to the brain for processing, byway of the olfactory nerves. The olfactory system receives odorous information through the nostrils, but cats also have a vowel nasal olfactory system in which smells travel to the brain through the tiny openings in the roof of the mouth.
Like other carnivorous mammals, lions smell the uro-anal region of other lions in their pride. A lot can be determined by smelling this region, e g they can tell if a female is in heat. If a nearby female is detected in heat, the males will often to a Flehmen posture, where they curl their lips and stick out their tongue, trying to detect minute particles in the air.
Cats have a highly developed sense of hearing, which is important for survival and locating prey. Some species, such as the large eared servile, rely on sound almost exclusively for locating and capturing prey.
The cheetah whose daytime hunting habits depend primarily on sight, rely little on sound in locating prey. The elongated oval shape of the external ears helps intensify and funnel sound into the inner ears for processing. The inner ear also serves as a centre for orientation and balance during jumps and leaps. Along with sensory information from the ears and eyes, a superb involuntary reflex helps a falling cat to right itself.
In an automatic twisting reaction, the head rotates, and then the spine and hind quarters align. At the centre, the cat arches its back to reduce the force of the impact when all four feet touch the ground.
The structure of the felid eye shows various adaptations for increased visual activity. The pupil and the lens, in the eye of an animal capable of seeing in very dim light, are much enlarged relative to the size of the retina, the layer of light sensitive cells at the back of the eye. The high proportion of extremely light sensitive cells in the retina (rods), compared to the cells optimized for vision in high intensity lighting (cones), allows the felids to be well suited for low light conditions.
The retina in nocturnal animals, including the cats is rendered even more effective by the addition of a reflective layer behind the retina, the tapetum lucidum. Light that has passed through the retina without being absorbed, and therefore not sensed by the cells of the retina, is reflected by the tapetum, passes back through the retina and thus has another house of being registered by a detector cell. The light that is not detected by the retina, during both passes through the eye, is reflected out of the eye through the pupil and creates the distinctive yellow-green eye shine when observing cats at night. The eye structure of the felids greatly improves the light gathering ability of the eyes and results in night vision about six times better than that of human.
The tongue of the cat is peculiar among the carnivores. Although it is primarily a body cleaning tool, it is also an important part of the feeding apparatus. The upper surface of the tongue is covered with short pointed projections called papillae, giving it the appearance of a wood rasp. Although small and somewhat insignificant in the house cats, the papillae of large cats are formidable instruments.
Scraps of meat and other food items are easily separated from the surface of the bone by passing the tongue over the area to be cleaned. Hand feeding captive cubs is often aided by the insertion of a finger into the mouth, initiating the suckling instinct, and quickly replacing it with the nipple of the bottle.
This sucking on fingers and thumbs is apparently enjoyable for the felids, as it is for the humans, and the process is often observed with adult cats and their handlers. Thumb sucking by adult felids often results in bleeding thumbs and fingers, actually scraped raw by the rasping action of the papillae on the skin.
Have experienced this sense of smelling with all the lions of different territories. While entering their territory the first thing they do to me is to smell me before making any other move on to me. At one time while I was with Sandile and seating on my knees, Sandile started sniffing at me and the game ranger was quite perplexed to see this move.
FIV is a virus similar to HIV, which lions and other cats are susceptible to. It is a virus that infects several species of felines, and is very similar to the HIV virus in humans. It is contagious and can be transmitted from one cat to another. FIV attacks a feline's immune system. There is no cure for FIV.
Sexual intercourse is not currently thought to be a major route of FIV transmission. Bite wounds transmit FIV, which is the primary method. It is also possible for a mother infected with FIV to pass the virus to her offspring through infected milk.
The effects of FIV are very similar to the effects of HIV in humans, in domestic cats. FIV targets and destroys white blood cells, which are the basis of the immune system.
The cat becomes vulnerable to other disease as the immune system becomes severely compromised as the FIV continues to replicate and destroy more white blood cells. FIV is fatal, in domestic cats. Death usually occurs as a result of complications from some other disease because of the compromised immune system, like HIV.
Studies done in 1996 found that 91 per cent of the lions tested in Serengeti National Park (221 out of 243) were FIV positive. FIV is also very common in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, with 93 per cent of the lions tested (41 out of 44) testing positive for FIV. In Kruger National Park in South Africa, similar results were found where 91 per cent of the lions tested (50 out of 55) were positive for FIV.
There has been no significant negative health effect due to FIV on lions in areas where FIV is common. Where FIV is common vs. lions living in areas where there is no FIV, higher deaths have not been shown in lions living in those areas.
We would expect to see higher death rates from other diseases and/or more rapid progression of disease where lions are infected with both FIV and other disease, in addition if FIV had compromised the immune system of lions as it does with domestic cats.
For African lions, FIV is not a new problem. In fact, it has probably been around for thousands of years. Some lions could cope with FIV infection because they may have possessed a genetic. Leading to the spread of the trait through natural selection, these lions would have had a survival and reproductive advantage.
So far there is no evidence that humans can be infected with FIV.
It was almost after six months that I revisited Inkaya Nkalamo (Otospot). Carl, the game warden was in his pink of spirit and decided to take me to one of the holding pans which had five male lions of age between two and a half to three years. I was surprised by his offer to let me got in to that pan. There was time when I would ask him about the possibility of being with those lions, but wouldn't be granted permission.
As I went into their den, all five came towards me. They stood four feet tall at the shoulder length. Off the five, one lion approached me an offered my hand to be licked so that he could feel me as being one of them. The rest four of them just stood by, and as I approached them in the same manner offering my hand to be licked, they would withdraw themselves. After a moment, all five lions moved deep in to their territory.
I decided to follow them, not knowing that they were dragging me in with them. All of a sudden I realised that I was almost getting surrounded from all the sides. I saw a gap, and utilized it to move myself towards the fence by walking backwards and protect by back .I was still calm though for a moment I felt the danger.
Bhuta, the lion who had licked me earlier came and sat next to my feet. I managed to get couple of shots with him. After a moment, the rest four lions came towards me and stood at a distance. They didn't look happy at all seeing one of them seating next to my feet. To attract them towards me, I thought of squatting so that they could feel that it's the right time to jump on to me. The trick worked but I'd timed myself. As they were a meter away from me, I stood up and tried to offer my hand but they were very annoyed. All of them were exposing their two inches canines.
At this moment, Bhuta the lion stood and kept his right fore paw on to my left calf, with its claws sunk under my skin. I felt that he wanted to trip me down. Immediately I stretched my right hand and made a fist and kept under his chin so as to keep him away from me. Thank God I was very firm on my feet and ultimately Bhuta decided to loosen the grip on the calf and walked away from me.
By his walking away I managed to slide open the gate which otherwise was not possible, and decided to get out of their territory. My heart was ticking fast as adrenaline was being pumped!
Man-eating lions are generally those that have become too old to catch their usual prey, and are forced to risk the wrath of humans by feeding on them. Another reason sometimes given is a lack of indigenous prey animals at a given time in the lions' habitat. Lions are territorial animals, and will not leave their domain even when no food is available; the herds must come to the lions.
As the lions fail to grip and throw the rushing antelope, because of old age, they take human beings as the chief source of food. The lions do not confine themselves to a given radius but travel miles and miles.
The strongest zebra fence was not strong or high enough to keep him out, having much of the furtive stillness of the leopard in his methods of attack and general cunning. The lions carried its victims off almost before they were conscious of their dreaded presence. Sometimes man-eaters kill two or three men in a single night, choosing the most crowded hut of all, pulling the sleepers out from their rough coverings, and mangling bodies while making off with one in his jaws.
The man-eater is said to display great stealth and cunning, never returning to the scene of a kill, and capable of evading capture for many nights.
Once the lion develops a taste for human flesh, he will actively seek humans. In one village in Samburu, Kenya, in twelve months, nine tribesmen were killed by one pride of lions; in another case, a young boy was tending a herd of cattle when three lions attacked him. The lions apparently ignored the cattle totally, running right through the herd to chase the boy around the bush. He was caught and devoured.
On most occasions, however, the main goal of the lions is to attack the cattle. At night, the tribesmen herd their cattle into a stockade called a "boma", constructed from large thorny fronds of acacia. Lionesses would break into the boma in the dark and kill an animal before escaping. George Adamson stayed in a tent near by, and could shoot lions before they killed the cattle.
Around six lionesses were killed, and two pride males were hunted down. The second male proved to be very cunning, and was difficult to track. Each time he was found again, he was hiding near to a rhino, and Adamson speculates that the lion was using the larger animal to provide a warning of the hunter's approach. The rhino is not a particularly alert animal, but is attended by numerous ox-pecker birds, which could have given necessary signal. The male was eventually stalked until he became impatient and charged at the hunters, where up he was shot.
Adamson notes that the lioness is more difficult to tract than the male, as she remains silent and hidden until she is ready to attack, whereas the male generally growls at the hunter's approach.
Lions seem to be selective with their victims. Smell of certain people make them more attractive to the lions. The more often the lion kills people, the more he learns, and if he is not caught quickly, he will develop into a highly cunning and evasive animal, never returning even to a half-eaten kill, and able to spot and avoid traps.
Once the lion becomes bolder, and realises humans are easy prey, he will break the doors of huts down or brave barriers of fire in order to kill.
All areas of Africa have been subjected to lion attacks, with the one of worst affected areas being Central Africa. 91 per cent of man-eaters shot were in good or fair condition, while only 13 per cent were described as aged and less than 5 per cent previously injured.
There are many types of man-eaters. The offspring of man-eaters, lions who have killed people who stumble upon them in the dense bush, and learn in this way, lions that eat victims of epidemics, or people who have died from natural causes and been laid out outdoors instead of being buried, wounded lions and aged lions. All have one thing in common. The first experience of human flesh taught them that humans are edible and easy to catch.
After a long time I re-visited Inkaya Nkalamo to pay a visit to Leo. Unfortunately he wasn't around as he had gone for his morning hunt practice with his fellow lion's. It was raining at some point while I was impatiently waiting for his return. Upon his arrival back I could feel his coat soaked with rainwater, which did not bother me as I just wanted to hug him. He allowed me to be as close as I wanted to be with him since he sensed me how much I'd missed him!
Every pride stays within a specific territory, where food and water are plentiful year round. Covering 39 square kilometers. When prey is scarce, lion prides will travel 260 square kilometres.
Only the Asiatic lion from India's Gir Forest are endangered with less then 350 (August 2005). The African lion is plentiful-a survival rate is greatened since the inception of African Wildlife Preserves where lions are not to be hunted. A lion will avoid contact with humans unless tormented or sick. When provoked, this is a terrible foe to man. Mortality is high of lion cubs up to 80 per cent die before 2 years of age.
Most of the people in the world think that lions are only found in Africa continent. People haven't been misleading in this regard; the truth is that there aren't many lions left in the rest of the world. About 10,000 years ago lions spanned vast sections of the globe, but as the human population started to increase, trees were cut and forests were cleared to make more land for people to live in.
Now lions are found only in small fractions in some parts of the world. And Asiatic lions, a subspecies that split from African lions perhaps 100,000 years ago, are only found in the Gir Wildlife Sanctuary of the Indian state of Gujrat.
Early last century the Gir Forest area in the state of Gujrat on the west coast was afflicted with a terrible famine brought on by severe drought. Because of the strained circumstances, the lion population began preying on the human population in the area. This prompted a massive backlash against the lions, resulting in a catastrophic decline in their population.
In 1901, the king of Junagardh invited the then Viceroy Lord Curzon to Gir for a hunt. Lord Curzon backed off at the last moment when as if by providence a letter in a local newspaper criticized the damage a Viceroy's visit would cause to a species on the verge of extinction. Wisely, he requested the King to protect the last surviving animals in his territory. The total Lion population was around 20 when the Nawab enforced a ban on hunting.
Kings and rulers of India have always used Lion as a powerful symbol of their leadership. History bears witness to the fact that this majestic animal is so deeply etched in their minds that King Ashoka depicted them on his rock pillars around 300 BC. Today India's National Emblem is based on the lions featured on Ashokan pillars.
If Nawab of Junagardh hadn't taken the initiative, the Gir lions would most likely have disappeared by now. What came of his conservation effort, are the 350 lions that today live in an around the Gir Forest.
Asiatic lions (Panthera Leo Persica) are only in one pocket located in the Gir National Park of the state of Gujrat. Their main prey species consists of Nilgai, Chital, Sambhar, Goats, Buffaloes and occasionally also other smaller animals. The lions of Gir have made it a habit of killing livestock and sometimes even Camel.
Although history shows the coexistence of lions and tigers, there is no prevalent example of this anywhere in the world at present. Lions do coexist even in the current era with leopards and cheetahs. However, they are extremely territorial and attempt to kill these leopards and cheetahs whenever their paths happen to cross.
The Asiatic Lions have been declared the most endangered large cat species in the world. They are under the constant threat of being wiped out by some deadly epidemic.
The biggest visual difference besides size between the two subspecies is a longitudinal skin fold that runs down the belly of Persica. Another physical characteristic setting them apart is that the male Asiatic lion has a substantially smaller mane on the top of his head.
The mane is sparse enough that the lion's ears are exposed and visible. In comparison the African lion's mane is so thick that it obscures its ears completely. Asiatic lion's have thicker elbow tufts and a longer tail tuft. Perhaps the most interesting anatomical difference between the two surviving subspecies of lion lies within their skulls.
The skull of the Asiatic lion possesses two small apertures or holes that allow the passage of nerves and blood vessels to the eyes. The skulls of African lions only have one hole on either side. Asiatic lions have smaller prides and territories then the African lion averages only 2-3 female per male. Asiatic adult males weighed 160-190kg, while adult females weighed 110-120kg. The Asian lion, also known as the 'Asiatic Lion' once lived in Southeast Europe, North Africa, The Middle East and India.
It now only survives in an area of about 3,000 square kilometers in Northern India's Gir Forest!
The lions that have been studied the most intensively live in the Maasai-Mara Reserve in southwestern Kenya, 160 miles from the capital, Nairobi. The reserve and the neighboring Serengeti National Park in Tanzania are part of a single ecosystem.
Set up in 1950, the reserve was expanded in 1961 and currently covers 583 square miles, although only 250 square miles are totally protected. The remaining area, known as the ranch zone, is used as pastureland by Maasai shepherds who set up temporary villages within the reserve.
Relationships between the species at the reserve are ever changing. While certain populations thrive, others decline. Because of drought and disease, like the outbreak of bovine plague in 1890 that wiped out 95 per cent of the gnus and buffaloes, balances can be drastically upset.
The eradication of the bovine plague as well as the increase in food reserves has allowed the gnu population within the Mara/Serengeti ecosystem to grow from about 250,000 in 1950 to 1.5million in the 1980s.
The appearance and colors of the reserve change with the seasons. At the height of the dry season, the ground is ravaged brown and the grasses a sickly yellow. The animals are weak. Then come the rains. In normal years they are on time: April/May for the heavy rains, mid-October/November for the light rains.
The grass seems to become green in no time and the ground turns into slushy mud. Few can escape getting stuck in the quagmire in these conditions. The wetlands are once again in accessible to most. Only elephants, buffaloes, and defassa waterbucks can venture with impunity into the wetland in search of pasture.
Above all, life at Maasai-Mara Reserve follows the pace of gnu migrations. Starting in June, everyone seems to wait for these herbivores. Gnus migrate following the rains as therefore the dates and routes of migration change from year to year.
Seemingly unending parallel columns of animals, some extending for 25miles without a break, advance towards Maasai-Mara from Tanzania, beating deep pathways. In the midst of the advancing herds, thousands of young gnus born in February in the Serengeti plains stumble through the herd for days on end, in search of their mother, lost somewhere in the crowd.
The nomadic males of the Serengeti follow the migration of gnus and from July/August on they start to threaten the herds of Mara. When the columns of animals reach the Mara River, thousands of them during the crossing, to the delight of scavengers, monitor lizards, catfish, and crocodiles. At the end of summer, the gnus tread the same route on their way back to Serengeti.
Maasai-Mara is the kingdom of predators. Lions, the easiest to find, are spread out throughout the reserve. Accordingly to1992 census figures, the overall population of adults and cubs amounted to 484,divided into 22 prides, plus 74 nomads, one of the highest lion population densities in Africa.
The cats like to relax, perched on termites’ nest, an ideal vantage point from which to keep an eye on the herbivores, especially during the rainy season when the high grass reduces visibility. The pride that has been followed for years was baptised Bila Shaka, and had settled on the east bank of the Mara River.
Gnus and zebras are the preferred prey of the Bila Shaka pride. But when the migration moves on, they have to find other victims.
Even though the lioness are not as agile as panthers, lioness easily climb trees and are capable of leaping with great flexibility. Adult males being much heavier have more difficulty.
The territory of the intrepid pride in Mara includes the banks of the Talek River, also the domain of many Leopards. Even though under the rain showers, the lioness stays lying in the grass.
Normally they try to keep water off their coats. The colour of lions’ manes varies a lot, from pale yellow to very dark brown. The males with dark manes will be more sought after by females.
There are about hundred lions in the Ngorogoro Crater. Because of their isolation, this population has some problems with respect to groups in the neighbouring Serengeti.
On the other side, Elsas’ sisters Lustica and the Big one were already at Rotterdam - Blydorp Zoo in Holland. When Joy visited them, about three years later, they accepted her as a friendly person and allowed her to stroke them, but they did not recognize her. Almost certainly they had no recollection of a freer life.
On my side, I had already made up my mind that I want to go now with Sendile, it was after a month of my last visit and by now, he was 3 years 2 months old lion. I talked to Gerald (the senior game warden) over the phone about being with Sendile and he told me “come down and we shall try to get him near the fence”. I replied, “I want to be in with him!” I just decided to leave and with me I’d carried my previous snaps which I had taken since he was young.
Upon arrival at the ranch, having met Gerald and talked to him how I feel “haunted by the lions” and that I need to be in the den with Sandile and having shown the snaps with him, he refused totally. Who would understand my feelings of attachment with these feline cats? Right from the time with the cubs till this moment I am surrounded by lion thoughts. I see them in my vision all the time.
Upon pursuing a lot, he told me that let all the tourists go so that me and you remain alone and that if we go in and Sandile decides to eat he eats you up, as Sandile is with three other lionesses. He was trying to scare me, but he was mistaken, not knowing how I was feeling inside me, I was not scared at all.
Time was clicking, by then it was already 5:30pm, and it was winter time. I was getting worried that I hope I will get to go in before the sun sets as the pictures would not come out clearly.
All of a sudden, Gerald tells me “Hey buddy!!! Lets go!”
He told me to wait first at the entrance of the den, while he observes Sandile’s temperament. Upon observing, he called me in and told me to close the gate behind me. I was too anxious to hold him, but at the same time my heart was thumping fast, though I had no fear.
Suddenly, I saw Sandile coming towards me and with all his weight, by then 374 pounds, that he literally pushed me with his head, few steps back and I managed to control myself. I grabbed him by his head and then I kissed him on his forehead and he calmed down. I tried to squat and with all his weight he just lied down on my right arm and with my left arm I was patting him.
Later on after a minute, he sat down on his hind limbs. I sat by his side and managed to take a couple of shots with him. At one instance, I tried to get his mouth open by keeping my thumb against his cheek towards the molars and he opened his mouth trying to grab my thumb, exposing his canines almost 2 inches long. My fingers had funny smell because of its saliva, which I had not realised till the time I started having some snacks immediately after coming out of the den.
While I was in, I was guarding my back from the other lionesses. Gerald, the senior game warden, had passed a remark that he had never seen Sandile so calm and relaxed before as he was with me.
As usual, got the photographs and showed to my close friends. The comment was: “perfect graphics!”. Some of the close Tanzanian friends who were with me remarked in Kiswahili: “Aise! Wewe utaliwa na simba!”
After looking at my own photographs with Sandile, I felt I have now graduated!