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Wildlife Details Bushdrums.com - Striving To Protect Wildlife and Encourage Responsible Tourism Practices http://bushdrums.com Sun, 25 Jun 2017 20:50:11 +0000 Joomla! 1.5 - Open Source Content Management en-gb A movie clip of Dr Zahoor Kasmir, wildlife vet. and expert http://bushdrums.com/index.php/wildlife/item/3749-a-movie-clip-of-dr-zahoor-kasmir-wildlife-vet-and-expert http://bushdrums.com/index.php/wildlife/item/3749-a-movie-clip-of-dr-zahoor-kasmir-wildlife-vet-and-expert

This link to youtube was e mailed by a mutual friend of Dr Zahoor Kasmiri, who was also known as Zorro.

The movie clip shows his amazing art and science in saving animals from injury and pain.

Dr Kashmiri was unfortunately killed last year by an injured elephant he was trying to help.  You may recall, I placed this information on our "old" bushdrums.com website whenI got news of this very sad accident.

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GGkjnnpPAeU

 

A film for all to watch, learn and respect the way such a person devoted his life and in the end gave his life to saving animals in a continent we are all part of.

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Wildlife Details Mon, 23 May 2011 12:52:17 +0000
Save the Tsavo River Toad http://bushdrums.com/index.php/wildlife/item/3349-save-the-tsavo-river-toad http://bushdrums.com/index.php/wildlife/item/3349-save-the-tsavo-river-toad

 LET US SAVE THE LESSER WEBBED
TOED TSAVO RIVER TOAD

it is not the response to cautionary signs that
determines the compliance culture in a country

Coastweek.com -- As we continue to explore the issue of convergence of driving rules, we will this week consider the important aspect of communication of the driving rules, writes TETI KAMUGUNDA.

An important part of driving is being able to see and decipher road signs.

On the mandatory and cautionary road signs, there is quite a degree of convergence.

There is general agreement about what the round and triangular shapes mean.

However, the colour of the border of the sign varies from country to country.

Some have red borders, others have black and we also have blue borders.

Whilst there may be differences in colour, the general understanding is that the shape is the key determinant of the message the area where there is less convergence is in the area of informative signs.

In this area, countries are creative in putting out national informative signs.

It is also the area where individual sections of the community can be creative.

In the area of cautionary signs there are instances when one will find that countries can have differences.

The ones that tend to confuse is where warning signs are put up to inform people about animals.

Generally speaking, these signs will inform the driver that there is the likelihood of animals straying on to the road or even in some instances that the animals have the right of way.

If one is not familiar with the fauna and flora of the country then they are likely to ignore the sign and hope nothing happens.

In Kenya, it is very unlikely that conservationists will be able to create enough fuss for the government and road authorities to designate an area as a special reserve for a particular threatened species and then go all out to ensure that they rule in that particular habitat.

Imagine a situation where a toad is deemed to be a rare and endangered species ... for arguments sake let us call it the lesser web toed Tsavo toad.

The habitat of the toad straddles the Mombasa Nairobi road somewhere near the Tsavo River .

The range of the toads is some six kilometres along this river and they criss cross the roads for about a month a year when in the mating season.

At this time the road is almost wall to wall toad for a certain period of the day each day.

The conservationists want the road closed for the period when the toads are crossing the road so that they can go about their business of mating without interference.

The government and roads authority agree that this should happen and they put up the necessary road signs.

The reality is that Kenyans will ignore the road sign and drive straight over the toads.

As far as they are concerned, all toads are vermin and deserve to be eliminated, conservationists or not.

We are generally very impatient drivers and if we can get away with breaking the law we will do so.

That is the culture of this country.

We are not even moved by the mandatory and cautionary road signs.

Stop and give way signs are just bits of metal that some crazy guy has put at the side of the road so that the fringe of the road complies with what is expected.

Drivers are not supposed to take the least interest in what they mean. The Highway Code is information that one remembers when one is told that there are cops in the vicinity.

Speed limits are only observed when there is the likelihood of being arrested and charged.

The opposite is true in say Canada where one carefully observes information signs.

A driver coming across one that cautions about the likelihood of caribou crossing the road will cause the driver to slow down and look out for the animals.

Should the animals be within range of the road, drivers are likely to stop and admire the animals.

I agreed with Kachumbari that it is not the response to mandatory or cautionary signs that determines the compliance culture in a country.

The best barometer is the response to informative signs.

These are the ones that do not lead to any interest by the cops or law enforcement agencies.

Where there is little regard to informative signs, the driving culture is careless, impatient and very bullying.

Where drivers do pay attention to informative signs then the discipline in driving is a lot better.

As Kachumbari says, compliance doesn't come easy.

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Wildlife Details Fri, 07 Aug 2009 14:59:29 +0000
Green Mamba Video http://bushdrums.com/index.php/wildlife/item/3347-green-mamba-video http://bushdrums.com/index.php/wildlife/item/3347-green-mamba-video

Video taken by Cédrik in Gabon

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Wildlife Details Thu, 04 Jun 2009 10:11:53 +0000
"We All Need to do Something" - "Voluntourists Are Helping Animals Around the Globe" http://bushdrums.com/index.php/wildlife/item/3346-"we-all-need-to-do-something"---"voluntourists-are-helping-animals-around-the-globe" http://bushdrums.com/index.php/wildlife/item/3346-"we-all-need-to-do-something"---"voluntourists-are-helping-animals-around-the-globe"

'We All Need to Do Something'
'Voluntourists' are helping animals around the globe.


By Joan Raymond
Newsweek Web Exclusive
Jul 13, 2008
 


Kelsey Ochsendorf wants to save the world--one animal at time. In the past year, Ochsendorf traveled to Sri Lanka, volunteering her time releasing endangered olive ridley and green sea turtle hatchlings into the ocean. At a South African nature preserve, she tracked and fed giraffes and helped socialize rare white lion cubs by engaging them in games of tug of war. In Malaysia, she brokered a truce with a band of monkeys that were pushing their territory a bit too far into the turf of their human neighbors.

The hours were long and the work was often difficult, but Ochsendorf, 24, who calls herself an "animal-loving greenie," wouldn't spend her vacation any other way. "Going to Cancun and drinking tequila shots doesn't do it for me," she says. "When the planet is in peril, we all need to do something that matters. To me, animals matter."

Thirty years ago, the rallying cry of a few intrepid wildlife conservationists was "Save the Whales." Today, the cry might as well be Save the Australian flying fox bats or the Andean bears. It's no secret that habitat loss, climate change and illegal poaching are taking a toll on indigenous animals around the globe. Fortunately, wildlife conservation is no longer the domain of just a few. Today, more folks than ever are spending their vacations helping furry, feathered and finned creatures by booking wildlife and conservation treks. These trips aren't cheap, starting at around $2,000 per person. But price doesn't seem to factor into the equation. In its annual forecast poll, Travelocity, an online travel service, found that nearly 40 percent of some 1,000 respondents plan to volunteer during their vacations in 2008, up from 11 percent last year. And of those vacationers, 33 percent said they considered conservation and the environment as personal causes.

There are some concerns that the growth of eco-tourism actually does more damage than good, by disturbing wildlife and destroying what is left of natural habitats. Not to mention those greenhouse gases emitted after flying to faraway places. These eco-friendly wildlife volunteers, however, are under direct supervision of resident wildlife experts, such as scientists or naturalists who have set up shop to help a specific species.

"There is no one demographic; our volunteers are everyone and anyone," says Rosie Plummer, a travel adviser with i-to-i, a U.K.-based company that pairs vacationers with humanitarian and wildlife conservation volunteer projects in Asia, Central and South America, Australia, New Zealand and Africa. The group has seen its wildlife and conservation tours grow from a measly 45 people eight years ago to nearly 1,000 last year. Voluntourists, as industry insiders call them, can work in nature preserves, get down and dirty assisting scientists in the field, or simply observe animals in their natural habitat, learning about what is being done to help preserve specific species. "We don't want people doing something they aren't comfortable with," says Plummer. "The trips are really about the animals and making sure people enjoy themselves and learn from the experience. We want people to feel as if they've done something good."

And it seems these wanna-be wildlife specialists are doing some good. Peter Brothers, a wildlife vet and South African tour guide, runs several trips a year that allow guests to get up-close and personal with lions, rhinos and elephants during what he dubs the "immobilization" safari. Though the animals are drugged, the safari experience is more than a glorified petting zoo. If they want, participants can assist veterinary staff with blood sampling, radio collaring and other tasks that help experts monitor health. "It's important that people realize we don't [run these trips just to] entertain guests," says Brothers. "All this work actually needs doing." Most participants are up to the challenge, except on the rare occasions when a drugged lion lets loose with a snore, says Brothers. "It sounds like a low growl."

The Earthwatch Institute credits much of its successes to its volunteers. The 37-year-old nonprofit sent some 3,800 volunteers out on 120 field projects last year to work directly with scientists around the world. Among the group's recent success stories was the release of 2,000 hand-reared African penguin chicks that were orphaned after an oil spill. The best news: the animals are successfully breeding in the wild of South Africa's Robben and Dassen Islands.
But you don't have to go as far as South Africa to find an animal in need. When Louise Craig of Rochester, N.Y.,  was looking to take a trip last year, she chose to go on an Earthwatch expedition in neighboring New Jersey to help save the diamondback terrapin turtle, which makes its home in the brackish waters of Barnegat Bay.

For nearly two weeks, she and her son Albert, then 10, monitored nesting sites, collected vegetation samples and tracked the turtles, whose numbers are being depleted due to land development. "These are some of the coolest creatures on earth," Craig says. "We could have gone to Disneyland, but I know that this was more important. Maybe in our own small way we helped these turtles, and that would be just wonderful."
Fortunately, when it comes to animals, cute, cuddly and cool is in the eye of vacationer.

"There really isn't an animal that doesn't get some attention," says Lisa Rooney, director of outbound programs for Volunteer Adventures in Denver. About half of their programs are geared toward wildlife and conservation, and even somewhat stigmatized animals, like bats, have their vacationing advocates.

"People come back from these trips and say they are more aware that the world is really a very small place," Rooney says, "and every creature deserve a safe place on our planet. I'm hopeful about the future."

Article at:  http://www.newsweek.com/id/145773


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Wildlife Details Sun, 13 Jul 2008 15:03:51 +0000
Heterothele Gabonensis - Research Report http://bushdrums.com/index.php/wildlife/item/3345-heterothele-gabonensis---research-report http://bushdrums.com/index.php/wildlife/item/3345-heterothele-gabonensis---research-report

Research on the biotope of Heterothele gabonensis in the national park of Lope.

By Cédrik Grenier

Heterothele GabonensisAfter a preparation of more than two years for my expedition in Central Africa, I finally took the decision to go to Gabon, from January fourteen to February fourteen. My choice seemed to be the best considering the circumstances, because several points made this expedition interesting for me who for more than six years have been impassioned and specialized in the African species.

The species found in Gabon were unknown and, at this point, few people had made serious research in this country so far, which made it even more interesting. However, this fact complicated the expedition because I did not have any benchmark. How should I begin my research?

I studied the country for some time, trying to visualize where my research could be most profitable. The heart of the country really attracted me for its drier climate, the scarcity of its savannas, the mountains furnished with forests passing from released and dry to dense and wet. The faunal reserve of Lope, in Gabon, thus seemed to be the ideal choice to begin my research. Having in hand my permit of research, I thus started by exploring the galleries surrounding the small village where I lived; the village of Lope.

With two days of forced rest, caused by a wound in a knee, my first week of research was very difficult since no tarantula, nor even a trace was found. Only the sixth day of research has enabled to me to unearth the first one. Considering the fact that this species has an average size of two centimetres, this female Heterothele gabonensis, which measured nearly 2.5 cm, was of a relative good size. As for the mature males, four were examined and also had 2.5 centimetres body length.

As of this day, I realized that within the interior of my territory of research, I would find this species in only one type of environment. This specific environment must fulfill several precise conditions to be advantageous. Indeed, if I withdrew only one of these conditions, I would not find any individual. So if all the elements were joined together, it would be possible to find several specimens in only one day. Only one exception to this was a group found at 6 meters high in a palm trees in the middle of the savannah, which contradicts all my observation made in my research.

Heterothele Gabonensis BiotopeHeterothele Gabonensis Retreat

The respective elements of this biotope are a relatively dry and clear environment, usually met in open forest. I easily met these conditions in the galleries surrounding the village. Here is where this story becomes more and more interesting.

The majority of the retreats were discovered near water, where a strange tree called Uapaca, can be found in good numbers. I tried to understand why, and after a few weeks of observation I realised, that what they were looking for was not the water but the trees itself, and that this tree grows near water.

Their choice for this tree did not surprise me, since it is definitively the one that offers the greatest number of relatively safe retreats in this type of environment. Cavities which can reach up to forty-five centimetres, are formed inside many air roots going up to four meters height, thus classifying this species as being arboreal for this sector. The small door giving access inside was blocked most of the time by silk, thus blocking the entry for the undesirable intruders. A striking fact; the majority of the nests of termites given up at the base of some trees were used by small groups. These nests of termites are not solely on Uapaca, and by the way it is the only place where I found some which did not reside in the Uapaca. On more than seventy retreats, the temperature inside was of 25.5 degrees Celsius, for a humidity estimated at 85%. It’s impossible to say for the moment if this species is only arboreal, since research was made on a limited territory of approximately twenty kilometres, however in various biotopes. It should be noted also that in several retreats, old exuvium passing by spiderling to adult were found, proving thus that they passed there a good part of their evolution.

Heterothele GabonensisMany groups, small or more important, were observed, living on the same tree. However no retreat revealed more than one mature spider, thus classifying them more tolerant than favourable for the community. These groups of two to twenty individuals count male mature, female mature with or without egg sac, juvenile and spiderling.

During the third week of the expedition, I met my first on a total of four mature males. This fact did not surprise me, since I had seen females which seemed to be pregnant, considering the size of their abdomen. Some specimens carried an egg bag while others lived in the middle of spiderling, the sac being thus already open. When I saw these ones, I realized that this period of mating must have been around two month ago, in fact at the beginning of November.

Various egg sacs were withdrawn from the nest after the spiderling hatched in order to count the number of exuvium inside. Here results: thirty-three for the first bag, thirty-nine for the second and twenty-seven for the third.

I was really surprised to note that all the specimens observed had small abdomens, in spite of a superabundance of good food for this species. Despite everything, some pieces of food could be collected in order to try identification. Very few crickets, some bodies of large consumed ants were finally found, which lead me to believe that they were defending against them rather than to eat them. I found it very strange that few pieces were found, and finally, I found the answer which, I have to say, was not part of my assumptions. What at first sight seemed to be some attacks of small black ants finally was something that totally shocked me. Indeed, after long observations I realized, that those ants did not attack the tarantula, but simply do the housework by removing exuviae and remains of food from their retreats. This explained why very few pieces of food were found, which is extremely interesting. What a team work!

Army AntsEven if the result of the work of the ants explained why no pieces of food are found, it did not explain why they were poorly nourished. The list of predators is short, but the existing ones are found in very large numbers. Indeed, you surely will have guessed it, not all ants have the kindness to do the housework without demanding a return! Three species, even aggressive towards humans, literally devastate the forests which I explored. In nearly 25% of the seventy studied retreats, one species in particular, unknown even by guards, is of red color with a black head, approximately two centimetres long, was discovered in the same tree. I was very surprised that these ants used a nest of Heterothele gabonensis to install their colony. The legionary’s ants of the Dorylus family, also called Magnan, also make devastations because an attack covers a large territory and because they are always moving. The probable assumption concerning the fact that the tarantulas are not nourished very well is undoubtedly that there are too many ants and that they remain hidden as long as that is possible.

 

 

 

In conclusion on this species, more than seventy easily recognizable nests, with or without specimens inside, could be observed and studied. Thus, the results of this research certify with accuracy the information collected for the sector of Lope. I want to thank the CENAREST for their collaboration, Richard Gallon for the identification of the specimen, Marylyn Dufresne for helping me to write the article as well as Rick West for its very useful information that helped me all along the travel.

Cedrik Grenier

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Wildlife Details Tue, 24 Jun 2008 11:04:00 +0000
Elephants can hear through their feet http://bushdrums.com/index.php/wildlife/item/3344-elephants-can-hear-through-their-feet http://bushdrums.com/index.php/wildlife/item/3344-elephants-can-hear-through-their-feet

Elephants can hear through their feet

Researcher says ability more useful to animals in wild

Patricia Yollin, San Francisco Chronicle
May 19, 2007

Once a month, Caitlin O'Connell has a date with an elephant. The Stanford research associate lives in San Diego and the pachyderm resides in Oakland, but they don't let geography interfere with their relationship. It's a question of science.

O'Connell has discovered that elephants can hear with their feet. They are specialists in seismic communication, relying upon sound waves that travel within the surface of the ground instead of through the air.

She's been working with the animals since 1992, when she went to Africa for nine months and stayed for 14 years. Donna, an Oakland Zoo resident, joined her wild counterparts as a research subject in 2002. "It's been a very interesting voyage," O'Connell said.

She'll be talking about that journey tonight at the Oakland Zoo and Wednesday at UC Davis, where she received a doctorate in ecology.

"I'm hoping this will spur a lot more study with large mammals," said the 41-year-old O'Connell, whose book, "The Elephant's Secret Sense: The Hidden Life of the Wild Herds of Africa," came out in March.

She said most study of seismic communication among animals has been limited to small rodents and insects -- a world that O'Connell, with a master's degree in entomology, knew something about before she went to Africa and stumbled upon elephants.

"It was certainly serendipity that started this whole thing," said O'Connell, who was asked, when she volunteered at Etosha National Park in Namibia 15 years ago, if she wanted to work on a three-year program on elephants.

"It took me two seconds to say yes," said O'Connell, co-director with her husband of Utopia Scientific, a nonprofit devoted to conservation.

She was supposed to find ways to keep elephants out of farmers' fields. While observing them, she started to notice certain odd things. "Normally, they would hold their big ears out like a parabola and scan back and forth," O'Connell said. "But to detect distant noise and vocalizations, they'd freeze and lean forward and put weight on their front legs. Sometimes they'd even lift up a front foot. All of them would do this at the same time -- it was too coordinated to be a coincidence." The behavior sometimes occurred when another herd approached or a ranger drove by in his vehicle.

"On a most fundamental level, the research is showing elephants have a whole modality for communicating that we haven't thought about," O'Connell said. Her findings could contribute to elephant conservation and to a better relationship between people and pachyderms.

For example, an early warning system, perhaps using the sound of elephant footfalls, could either set off an alarm for a farmer or allow the beasts to flee before encountering humans. "It's very frustrating for farmers to live with elephants," O'Connell said. "A group of elephants can come into your field and eat your whole year's supply of food in one night."

She returns to Africa for two months every summer, accompanied by Oakland Zoo General Curator Colleen Kinzley, a few zoo colleagues and some Stanford students. This year, they're leaving June 8.

They usually study about 40 bulls and 200 females in 10 family groups. "To see the consistency of the characters is really fun," O'Connell said. The cast of regulars includes Winona, a feisty young female who has two cutouts in one ear that look like a "W." "She's a benevolent dictator," O'Connell said. "Another one is Margaret Thatcher. She's much more officious and chases the others away. Nobody else can drink at the water hole when she's there with her family." By contrast, 27-year-old Donna at the Oakland Zoo is "cooperative" much of the time.

O'Connell sometimes spends several days with her, working up to five hours at a time. The researcher sits at a table 5 or 10 feet behind three targets, with a computer and wires that connect to a metal plate the elephant stands on, with a 10-pound shaker attached.

When Donna correctly detects a vibration, she gets a treat, such as an apple, banana or alfalfa cube. If she makes a mistake, she only gets a "no, no, no!" from Kinzley. Failure can make her distraught, O'Connell said, while success will prompt her to prance around, make little noises and get "real perky."

Osh, the zoo's bull elephant, is also getting involved in the experiments, though he tends to be rambunctious and is getting a concrete platform with rebar under it. "Donna is much more amenable to playing the game and not messing with everything," O'Connell said.

She said there is a world of difference between zoo elephants and those in the wild, in terms of responding to sound waves in the earth. "Donna and Osh are living off 580," she said. "They're captive elephants. They don't pay attention to vibrations because they don't have to."

O'Connell said she was met with a good deal of skepticism when she first learned that elephants listen with their feet. "People didn't believe it," she said. "It took a lot of time to get people on board. It wasn't something they'd considered with large mammals."

She said data on surface waves, and how far they travel, was scarce because seismologists filter them out when they're measuring quakes. It took many follow-up experiments to demonstrate pachyderm capabilities to dubious scientists. "People are just amazed," O'Connell said. "Even now, we don't know what the outer limit is."

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Wildlife Details Sun, 20 May 2007 14:12:47 +0000
New Blind Orphaned Rhino at Sheldrick Trust http://bushdrums.com/index.php/wildlife/item/3343-new-blind-orphaned-rhino-at-sheldrick-trust http://bushdrums.com/index.php/wildlife/item/3343-new-blind-orphaned-rhino-at-sheldrick-trust

The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust

 

3/14/2007 4:21:54 PM

The 6th February 2007 began as an ordinary day, but ended up anything but
ordinary due to the discovery of blind yearling baby rhino in the Park forest
about 3 kms. from our Headquarters.   The elephant Keepers, who were out in the
forest as usual with their charges, heard the rhino crying, and went to
investigate.   He was running around aimlessly, there being no sign of his
mother.   The KWS Rhino Unit was summonsed, and together they and our Keepers
monitored the little rhino until dusk from a good distance so as not to disturb
him or the possibility of his mother returning, and when there was still no sign
of the mother, something had to be done to spare him from being taken by
predators during the night.   By calling him with the rhino “come” sound (a soft
exhalation of breath), he followed the Elephant Keepers and KWS Rangers for the
3 kms until near the Trust buildings, when he spooked at the strange sounds,
blindly charging all and sundry and almost downing Daphne in the process who had
to resort to diving into a nearby bush!   By now it was quite obvious that he
was completely blind in both eyes, for both his eyes were opaque.   He was then
physically overpowered, which took all the strength of about l0 men and although
just a year old, he could certainly pack a punch and was immensely powerful.  
With legs tied he was then carried on the elephant Rescue Tarpaulin to a vacant
stable, where he was released, and proceeded to almost demolish the timbers of
the stable.   Apart from his eyes, he was in good physical condition, so he
could not have been without his mother for long.   (Her disappearance and
ultimate fate still remains a mystery.)
We named the little rhino “Maxwell”, "Max" for short, which somehow seemed to
suit him.   For three full days, no-one could set foot in his stable, he was so
wild and fierce, but he soon understood that milk and water was available at the
stable door.
 
It being essential that he undergo a course of injectable antibiotic to
forestall problems brought about by trauma and shock, only Robert Carr-Hartley
was courageous enough to risk going in, and having restrained the sharp end of
the rhino by hanging onto his head, some reinforcements then followed to enable
Robert to administer the antibiotic!   For the next three days, the same process
had to be repeated, and everyone heaved a sigh of relief when it was over.   By
now, however, the little rhino had calmed down sufficiently to enable one of the
braver Keepers to venture in with him, and since then he has been very amenable,
as long as not suddenly startled, enjoying being fondled on the belly and head,
as do all rhinos.   The next challenge was to move him into Magnum’s vacant
Stockade, which abuts that of Shida and this was accomplished without too much
difficulty. 
 
An assessment of the cause of Max’s blindness has revealed that he is suffering
from bilateral cataracts, so surgical intervention to remove the cataracts is
planned for Wednesday 21st March, when Dieter Rottcher returns from Germany.  
Dieter will oversee the anesthetic being extremely experienced in this field
whilst the eye surgery  will be undertaken by one of Kenya’s top Eye
Specialists, Dr. Schwendemann.   We keep our fingers crossed that we will be
able to restore at least some vision to little Max, for a bull rhino has to
fight for territory and rank, and must be able to see his opponent.
 
To View more photographs of Max click on this link:  http://www.sheldrickwildlifetrust.org/asp/orphan_gallery.asp?N=169
 
To Foster Max click on this link: http://www.sheldrickwildlifetrust.org/asp/fosteringnew.asp?G=5&LP=3142007825-pic7a.jpg&N=169&FN=MAXWELL

 


Most Sincerely,

Dr. Dame Daphne Sheldrick D.B.E.
http://www.sheldrickwildlifetrust.org

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Wildlife Details Thu, 15 Mar 2007 00:40:00 +0000
creepy crawlies and other critters http://bushdrums.com/index.php/wildlife/item/3342-creepy-crawlies-and-other-critters http://bushdrums.com/index.php/wildlife/item/3342-creepy-crawlies-and-other-critters An old adage goes as follows: 'What doesn't kill you will make you strong' and whether or not you buy into patronising stoicism is irrelevant in this case. One of the most contentious issues when entering the great outdoors are the little 6- or 8- or no-legged critters, many of them with venomous stings or bites - and equally as many completely harmless - that are part of the food chain.

Many visitors to wilderness areas don't seem to realise that the moment they voluntarily enter the bush they automatically also become part of the food chain - something most people do not necessarily cherish. One of the commonest questions asked as a guide - apart from, 'how far is it?' and, 'when will we be there?' - is the inquiry into the size, frequency and toxicity of our reptilian and arachnid life forms. And yes Namibia abounds with all sorts of snakes, scorpions, spiders, bugs, beetles and a myriad of slithering, sliding, crawling creatures. It's a sign of a healthy and well-matured eco-system, and in the case of the Namib Desert, an ancient and unique natural balance.

Ironically enough the automatic reaction from most city dwellers when coming across any of the aforementioned in their natural habitat is to squash it, maim it, poison it. In short, anything with more than 2 legs entering the personal safety and comfort sphere is send to a speedy death. Unfortunately the little creepy crawlies of the bush are magically attracted to people with creature phobias, often leading to a mass murder of completely harmless insects. It's probably similar to the Icarus complex of moths attracted to candles and fires.

Yet even poisonous visitors don't have to be killed merely because it was unfortunate enough to loose its direction and wander into your camp. A scorpion or snake can easily be scooped up in a suitable receptacle and carried some distance out of camp and be released again. The same goes for spiders and ticks. Unless something seriously threatens your immediate health and safety there is no need for excessive destruction of an already beleaguered ecological balance.

The flip side of this wanton decimation is people with the chronic urge to capture and collect creatures of all shapes and sizes, often just for the pleasure of inducing cold shivers in the on-lookers. Most creatures will not survive captivity unless scientifically monitored, in which case it serves the purpose of research and knowledge. Wild creatures generally don't make good pets, so they best left where they belong: in the wild!

Even well-meaning guides catching snakes or chameleons to demonstrate their bush savvy to their guests will subject their quarry to undo duress and trauma which can lead to the animal's demise. Many would-be or hobby collectors are unaware that the majority of our reptiles and other small creatures are protected by law. Thus, unless you actively pursue a research programme for a registered institution or have a collector's license you will be breaking the law and taken to task. On that note: Should you come across anybody in the bush 'collecting' snakes, tortoises or pangolins and find him/her evasive please report the incident in the nearest town's police or ranger station. Smuggling protected species is rife and the Protected Resources Unit of the Namibian Police is tasked specifically to combat the illegal trade in endangered and protected species.

On a concluding note - people who engage in catching poisonous animals in the bush hopefully also know what they are doing when things go awry and they get bitten. Cyto- and Neurotoxic snake or scorpion bites in the bush far from modern medical treatment can be fatal. Caution and a little respect are always advised when encountering creatures in their natural habitat. After all it's their home. Ignoring this fact of life could lead you through a seriously steep learning curve, as was the case with an American tourist recently who was gored to death because he wanted a close-up photograph of him and an Oryx. Well-known naturalist from the Kavango Region, Mark Paxton of Shamvura, was luckier. He was bitten by a black mamba and lived to tell the tale - how, nobody knows.
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Wildlife Details Sun, 28 Jan 2007 18:48:00 +0000
The Lion - by Gulamabbas Mohamedali Part 1 http://bushdrums.com/index.php/wildlife/item/3341-the-lion---by-gulamabbas-mohamedali-part-1 http://bushdrums.com/index.php/wildlife/item/3341-the-lion---by-gulamabbas-mohamedali-part-1

 The Lion - by Gulamabbas Mohamedali Part 1

 

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.

 

Lions: Friendly but dangerous

With his spectacular mane, majestic appearance, huge amber eyes and terrible roar, the lion is the symbol of animal power and nobility. King of the savannah, a lion can be tremendously ferocious and surprisingly gentle.

Threatened by poachers, it is the most fascinating of the great cats. For lions in Africa there are many dangers threatening their existence. Unfortunately the greatest of these dangers is man himself. The biggest threat to lions comes from poachers who hunt the lions for various monetary gains. Further more, during periods of droughts the survival of cubs is limited due to the shortage of food, which means the weakest lose out i.e. the cubs.

In good seasons, in the wild, lion cubs stand a 30-40 per cent chance of survival. In captivity this survival rate is raised from 70-100 per cent. Our main goal is to preserve the lion for future generations of Africa.

A lion at the height of his glory, rising in the high grasses with his nose to the wind, is a magnificent sight. Its power comes from its average weight of 420 pounds with a height of four feet at the shoulder and a length of 10 feet from the tip of its nose to the tip of its tail.

But lions vary in size from region to region. South African lions are larger than their East African cousins and females are 20-50 per cent lighter and sleeker than males. Sexual dimorphism is therefore more pronounced than in other felines.

The mane is strictly a male attribute and gives lion their majestic aura. It varies greatly in color from light yellow to dark brown, bordering on black. In five- or six-year-old lions, a mane can be nine inches long.

It acts almost like a fencing mask, absorbing paw swipes aimed at the head and neck during fights between rivals. While fur coloring is genetically determined in most mammals, a lion’s mane can get darker or paler with age, or lose sections after a wound. Not all males are equal.
Only some males develop a long, thick mane. In certain regions such as the Ngorongoro Crater and Kalahari Desert, black-maned males are not uncommon.

Studies on the impact of the size and colour of mane on the social studies and reproductive success of lions are currently under way. Mock lions with light or dark, and more or less dense manes are presented to animals in the wild.

The males tested are more diffident towards the ‘toys’ with long manes while females seemed to be more sexually attracted to dark manes. Researchers are also trying to determine the impact of inherited genes and diet on manes.

Since most of the young males studied leave the survey area before reaching adulthood, it is particularly difficult to compare the manes of fathers and their offspring. Furthermore, paternity can only be determined with certainty through DNA testing. For all these reasons, most of this research is carried out mainly on animals in captivity.

A lion’s head is very large, almost rectangular ending in a large, rounded muzzle equipped with powerful jaws. The teeth reflect the animal’s adaptation to the life of a predator. The lions’ powerful canines (2.5 inches long in average in males) are slightly curved and very pointed, equally useful for gripping prey and fighting.

The molars are used to grind chunks of meat. Its teeth can determine a lion’s age. The sharp creamy - white canines of young lions gradually become blunt and break with age. As the animals grow older, the canines take on a yellowish colour and later become caramel brown.
The iris of the eyes varies in colour from golden yellow to brown.

Paws are massive and powerful, with retractable claws designed to grip prey, and in the case of females and lighter cubs, to climb trees.

The tail ends in a tuft of dense black fur that hides a spur shaped horny growth, up to a half inch in length. By swishing its tail, the lion tries to drive away flies, its worst enemies. Tail movements also express anger and grumpiness.

At around seven to eight years old, the male is at his maximum strength. He can expect to live another few years at the head of a pride if all goes well. By now, Sandile is three years and five months old and had decided to go back to his den (after three months of interval) I just had to confirm with the senior game warden about my visit and if it was fine for him. Upon arrival at the range having met Gerhald we didn’t want to waste time because of winter, it used to get dark earlier, as at the same time we respected their territory which they patrolled once its stats getting darker and they would be roaring.

What actually happens is that in that ranch there are six lion holding pans of different age groups in them. So, when the lion of one pan roars, meaning that ‘I am here in my territory!’ The lions from the other pans too would answer the call by roaring meaning: ‘I too am here in my territory.’

And the roaring goes on for quite some time. I too have learnt to mimic the roar and do get the reply (the difference being my roar doesn’t go that far, unlike the original roar, which could be heard till a distance of 5km). This time, we entered together into the den. Sandile wasn’t far away from the entrance. He didn’t look happy at all. I approached him to where he was and squatted next to him my whole body touching his.

I kept my left hand on his nap and what he did was, with his front right limb he put around my left foot which was next to him on his right side. With that move, I was surprised but nothing crossed my head at that time. The only thing, which I noticed was that whenever I held him, he was snarling (making certain sounds).

I took a couple of shots with him, and then Gerhald told me we should get out immediately as it was quite risky being with Sandile at that moment.

As I moved away from him, and asked Gerhald how come Sandile is behaving weird today? And that’s when he told me that in the range there was one male lion around eight years old and adjacent to it was his son of four years and were separated, by just a line of fence which was electrified but no alarm connected.

All this time these two would try to demonstrate that one was stronger than the other. One night came when the father decided to climb the fence and jump into his son’s pan. The fence was 2.4-metre high and bedded in a concrete layer at the base.

The father lion cut off the electric strand, which ran across the fence which is used for keeping the lions off the fence area by an impulse of shock, and jumped into the sons pan, and the son too was waiting for the father.

The son bit in the head and killed the father. The skull is kept for display. Because of this, there was some kind of commotion in the whole of the range. Lions are unpredictable. They can turn unto you any moment!

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The Greeting Among Lions

THE greeting among the lions unlike the lionesses is such that when a lion passes next to a lion sitting, the former will lower his head and the later one will either move or project its head forward approving the greeting.

Lions rarely take an initiation of greeting a lioness. When a male returns to the pride after a long absence, he is often greeted by the head rubbing which is quite rough.

The identity card within the prides is recognised by the order given off by a secretion from the skin above the lion's eyes that is exchanged when the lions rub their head together. The bond between all pride members is through their greeting.

After greeting they usually start grooming each other. This is usually performed with the help of licking, using the tongue. The tongue of a lion is covered in horned papillae helps in gripping food, remove dust, lick blood and kill parasites. Unlike lionesses, lions like the faces and not other parts of the body. Lionesses thoroughly clean their cubs. Females clean more frequently each other.

When food becomes scarce, the relationship among the pride gets aggressive. The lionesses of the pride pass a lot of time together as they are all cousin hence there is no dominance between females of the pride.

Lions adapt anywhere as long as they can find water where as females of the pride pass a lot of time together, since they are all related.

I was already missing Sandile to greater extent and was feeling very bad inside me. Since the Gab lion park was close to where I was (25km), I used to visit frequently and would watch the lions through the fence. Since Jimmy new about my craziness about lions as I had already been in the territory of his lions much before, he directed me to a place that was hundred and eighty four km from his place toward North West province of South Africa, one Km from the village Otospot on the left to a place called Inkaya Nkalamo.

This place was a lion breeding place somehow similar to Sundown Ranch. Jimmy the owner of Gab Lion Park use to get his lion cubs from this place. Me and my family decided to visit this place.We left early and by noon we were there. Upon entering the area, having paid the gate fees, we parked the car and walked to the office.

While walking to the office we saw more than 12 cubs of age 18 to 16 weeks on the ground. Some were lazing around while some were playing with each other.The lion cubs chasing and trying to catch each other as they would hunt their prey. Along with this there were carcals, lynx, monkeys , tortoises in holiday pans. Since it was my first visit to this place, and hopping that I would see lions similar to Sundown ranch where I met Sandile. I went with my album which had Sandiles' pictures, and the pictures with jimmy's lions, and the pictures of the cheetahs at the Mokolodi Game Reserve too.

The purpose was to introduce myself using these pictures and tried to get friendly with the game ranger of the place visited with the hope of winning their confidence so at later stages i might get my way in with the lions of their territory.

While at the office I was introduced to the game ranger Cronje and Robert. They browsed through the pages of the album and were impressed. While they were busy, I started looking at the portraits on the wall. While I was looking at one of the portraits I was told "this lion was hand raised and was one year and eight months old". I was told he has gone to the bush but shall be back by 4pm. He was named Leo.

He (Leo) accompanied by two other lions leave for the bush by 7am and return by 4pm.All these 12cubs with 3 lionswere freely moving. In the meantime we were taken around to see the breeding lions.They had almost 14 lion holding pans and in each pan there were three to five grown up lions.We were even told that by 4pm when leo and his mates were back, they all with the cubs walk to a back water collection and swim in there.We were all exited to hear and told ourselves that we shall wait for that moment before we return back home.

At around 3:30pm Leo and the team were back from the bush.As i was walking towards the office to meet Noelin, I saw Leo seating on the lawn. He looked big and beautiful.But noelin was not in the office instead she was on the other side of the loan were Leo was seated.I had my intentions of getting a picture with Leo. As I walked towards Noelin I forgot that I was walking past Leo.

While passing leo,he grabbed both of my feet with his front paws and I fell flat on my chest. He immideatly held my right knee with his mouth holding it with his cannines. I could feel the grip of his mouth and immideatly noelin came to my rescue.As i was freed, istarted petting him and grooming his mane with my fingers and he settled down to accept me.I took a couple of pictures with him.

By almost 4:15pm, Robert started calling the cubs, Leo and his mates since it was time for a swim.They all walked in rows of two behind each other till they were in the water.After a while as they were coming out of the water,my son Essa(4yr) was standing in their path.

The first two cubs passed by him, but the third one who looked almost 12 weeks old did not waste time as he just jumped on to him and was all over him. I had to rush to rescue him at that moment. He was in shock and his mother took him on to her arm and didn't want to get down. These cubs were going for a small meal after there demonstration. We all followed them to a place were the carcass of a buffalo was lying.

My family was standing at quite a distance but they could see all of them eating. The cub who had jumped on Essa was hidding in the tall grass behind his back. Essa got convinced that there was no danger for him and got down his mother arms. While i was watching the pride eating, I was also keeping an eye on my family to see that they were safe.

What I saw after a short while was the female cub who was hidden in the tall grass was stalking very quietly towards Essa. I immideatly ran towards the family and carried Essa with my hands under his arm pits above my head level and the cub just missed him by few inches. Now, both mother and son were panicked and insisted that we should leave while my daughter Maryam (8 years) was insisting we should still wait. I promised her that we shall be back after some weeks and shall spend a night there!

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Efficient Killers; Lazy Hunters

Lionesses not only assume the responsibility of hunting for the group but also care for the offspring. Lions are not particularly efficient hunters, successfully capturing prey consisting of medium sized ungulates including zebras, wildebeests and antelope in only 20-30 per cent of their attempts.

They are referred to as opportunistic, eating whatever they can catch for themselves or steal from other predators. They are not well adapted for leaping or reaching particularly high speeds, nor are they capable of running long distances.

In general, if lions are not successful within a few hundred metres, they give up the chase and the prey escapes. Lions do not hunt by scent, although their sense of smell is excellent, they often approach prey from an upwind location thereby alerting the prey and ending the hunt.

Secondly, the lion’s charge is generally launched directly at its quarry and it rarely alters the path of the attack, as do other felids. Generally speaking, if a lion misses its quarry on the initial charge, it does not give pursuit, but quits and looks for new quarry.

Scavenging is also an important source of food for lions, with food stolen from other predators often making up to 10-15 per cent of their total food intake. Lions spend a great deal of time looking for circling vultures and listening to the calls of hyenas, enabling them to locate downed prey.

When prey and other predators are plentiful, lions may get close to half of their food by scavenging.

Stalking by day, on the open plain, becomes extremely difficult because of the sharp sight of antelope, wildebeest and zebras. When several lions are taking part during early morning stalking, other animals of the grasslands including the intended victims know that the lions are hunting.

The prey will be glancing around nervously when a lion is in sight as all the eyes will be fixed on it. Since they do not know where all the lions are located nor do they know how or where they will strike the early flight would not always be the best method of escape for the quarry.

Lions hunt during all times of the day, nocturnal hunts are generally more successful. Lions in many areas of their range, prefer to hunt under the cover of darkness where the light gathering adaptations of the field eyes casts a distinct advantage to the predators.

As darkness approaches, the lionesses silently move out in lines to locate prey, circling around and behind a herd they pick out a startled victim and dispatch it with a bite to the neck or throat.

At a kill interactions and pecking order among pride members is highly developed and lions rarely eat in peace. Confrontation becomes a risky business because of the uncertainty temper and tremendous strength of the males feeding at kills.

Therefore, when the full pride is present the mature males eat first and rarely tolerate females in the initial feeding. They retire in the immediate vicinity to relax, when they have satisfied themselves, and the females with constant bickering come forward fighting among themselves.

Scars representing most of the facial wounds on the lion’s head, are received during squabbles at kills. Last to feed are the juveniles and cubs and are frequently left out altogether. That is the fact of lion life and is the leading cause of cub deaths due to starvation.

In the interest of the pride during periods of food shortage, cubs are apparently readily expendable, and are later easily replaced when food supply is increased.

Limiting serious injury during potentially violent confrontations, lions use instinctual and ingenious methods. Cubs being the weaker members of the pride, adopt fawning or cringing position and by crouching or lying submissively on their backs, deliberately exposing itself in such a fashion as to make killing as easy as possible for the superior lions.

Lions once having found the shadow of an acacia tree, they devote an inordinate amount of time sleeping especially at midday on the plains. Resting for the next 24 hours digesting their meal, after consuming a full meal, they lie about completely intertwined with heads and legs lying over and around adjacent individuals. When one shifts position, the chain reaction affects many of its resting partners.

When lions become man-eaters they are bolder and more aggressive in their pursuit of humans. A man-eating lion often hunts at night and prowls the perimeter of villages looking for victims.

While at Orion safari, the three lionesses were seating in a shade and an open plain. A heard of zebra appeared from a distance. They kept coming close till almost a kilometre away from these lionesses, when one of the lionesses started to stare at them.

Meanwhile, the zebras came closer, and walked right into the trap. With its terrifying power and determination, the lioness chased after her chosen victim, an adult male zebra. Catching up with him, she leaped on to his back but was kicked off for a moment.

She was suddenly there again, gaining on him as he ran and leaping once more onto his back with such a force that he stumbled, cart wheeling in a cloud of dust as she fastened her jaws on a death grip around his throat.

I took a chance by waiting at their table while they were having their meal.

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Lions Maths

LIONS are able to understand terms at high subtraction level, for example, numbers. It’s not sure how and when did lions get this fascinating skill. However, many fossils proved lions were able to count a long time before first humans developed brain bigger than an orange which is the lowest mass allowing abstract thinking. This means, humans are no longer the first intelligent species on earth.

Compared to the way humans count, The Lion Numeric System (LNS) is very sophisticated. The decimal numeric system human use is based on the number of fingers -10, which almost every human being possesses. Humans tend to use fingers to help them count.

On the other hand, a lion fore paw has five claws; back paws have four claws each. The problem lions are facing is, that one of their fore paw claws –a dew claw, is placed higher on the paw, which makes it rather hard to use. However, this fact didn’t force the lions to develop just octal numeric system (digits from 0-7), which will be less practical than decimal. This simple solution didn’t satisfy lions enough.

The LNS is much better than silly octal numbers and allows lions to count easily up to very big numbers. A lion can count up to incredible 65535 just on his four paws-that’s something humans can only dream about. The way they do it, is simple. Lions use all combinations of extended/retracted claws on each paw. With four claws, this makes 2×^4 combinations-which are equal from 0-15. Yes, for a lion number 10, 11,12,13,14, and 15 are each considered a single digit!

The conversation of LNS to human understandable format is easy. From the point of view of the counting lion, the claw on the right (LSC-Less significant Claw) has value of 2×^0=1, the second from the right has value of 2×^1 =2, the second from the left has value of 2×^2 =4 and the left claw (MSC-Most Significant Claw) has value of 2×^3 =8. This applies to right fore paw. The left fore paw is used the same way, just the numbers on this paw are four claws shifted to the left-that means, multiplied by 16.

Just on fore paw a lion can count up to 15*16+15=255. Rear paws are used the same way, also shifted. Two lions standing next to each other can count to much higher numbers; while pride can have maximal number higher than our computers can count with. A pride of lions can also use parallelisms to count faster.

Because of problems with extending just some claws, many lions use their whole fingers like humans do. The lions can also write digits by making paw prints in mud, which can keep the calculations for a long time after drying. After rains, lions can be seen walking slowly and thoughtfully back and forth in mud. This doesn’t help them get rid of parasites living on their paws; they are just doing complex calculations-usually estimating numbers of prey.

By now I’d been issued a permit from the Director of Wildlife and National Parks to rear two orphan cheetahs. The holding pan was already built and it was 25km from were I was staying. Another small pan was built were I was staying at home keeping in mind that once they are older than four months I would take them back to a bigger enclosure.

When the cub was brought to me (14days old), it was quite exited, nervous & uncertain of itself, subjected to fear & stress because they suddenly find themselves in a new and unfamiliar environment. In this situation, it wouldn’t eat immediately. It needed a period of adjustment that lasted for several days to enable it to calm down. This gave time to accept its captivity before it touched any food.

Caring for and keeping orphaned animals alive requires considerable attention and devotion, especially during the first few weeks. An animal that has never suckled and did not get any colostrums is handicapped from the start because it lacks essential ingredients e.g. antibodies against diseases and nutrients such as protein, carbohydrate, vitamins & minerals. Animals that grow up without having had it suffer from all kinds of problem and disorders, and never progress.

The natural behaviour, suckling habits and milk composition vary from one species of animal to the next. It is therefore impossible to raise all wild animals in the same way by using the same milk formula. When I was handed over the cheetah cub, I was instructed that “This animal should be cared for as nearly as its own mother would have done”.

Since I was undertaking care of the cub, in the beginning of its life, I would be accepted as its surrogate mother or feeding mother. The manner in which I hold the milk bottle, my clothing, my scent and voice, and the manner I express love and patience are imprinted at an early age on the cub. The milk fed was at body temperature of 38C. For the first few days, the cub was kept in a quiet, safe and warm place by covering the floor with a thick layer of straw. I kept wooden crate in a corner to provide a hiding place where the cub would feel safe and warm.

After a few days, the cub was taken out of its shelter and placed in a small pen during the day. Shady place was provided so that the cub could move out of the sun when it became too hot. In the late afternoon, I would take the cub to its warm shelter where it would stay for the night. Fresh, clean drinking water was available at all times. The bedding litter was changed regularly and replaced with dry, fresh litter. Saw and saw dust was used as litter. When diarrhea occurred, the litter was changed more often. Warm water, soap and mild disinfectant were used to wash the faeces off the tail and other soiled parts of the hind quarters.

Initially it was difficult to persuade or force a frightened, nervous young cub to drink milk from a bottle. I had to force feed else it would die of dehydration within two or three days. Force feeding was done by inserting a finger between its lips on one side of its mouth and pushed the teat in after it. I then massaged the gums lightly and carefully with the finger. The milk got squeezed drop by drop out of the bottle. When it was feeding, I would speak to the cub continuously and softly while I stroked its back and tail.

After 14 days, once the cub was used to drinking, I taught it to drink from a bucket. It drank equivalent to about 10-15% of its body weight per day. I had to devote considerable attention and time to help the cub to urinate and defecate by stimulating its anal and genital areas by using a warm, damp towel to massage the under its tail to stimulate the licking of its mother. This stimulation was being done during or just after feeding.

Once it had attained three months it was weaned. It was relatively traumatic and heart rending experience. To facilitate weaning, I left few meat pieces in the holding pen so that the cub would learn to eat solid foods. As the cub was close to being weaned and also was eating solid food, the milk quantity was decreased gradually over a period of 2-3 weeks. As he was totally on solid food, I had to take him to its den!

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Lions Playtime

MERELY following their mothers from a distance at four months of age around everywhere, but will not take directly part in hunting. They learn the tricks and techniques of hunting, as they observe their mothers at work.

Females will sometimes beat prey to the ground without killing it, allowing the adolescents to complete the kill, for the sake of teaching them. The herbivore, that is generally immobilized as though paralyzed, shall be suffocated at first, clumsily. Allowing the herbivore to get away off their grip, because of their lack of experience. This learning requires several trials. Cubs are generally capable of killing prey, by the age of one year. At two years of age, they could hunt on their own. Having detected the presence of zebra or gnu, only the adolescents or very large cubs can attempt to bring them down. Cubs will not be able to experiment with all types of game, during their training.

Differences between females and sub-adult males are already quite marked, by the age of two years reflecting the signs of role sharing between males and females. Exuding a liveliness and self-assurance that is lacking in their brothers and cousins who are larger but more apathetic, young lionesses are much more vigilant. It is often the young females that set the pace, when the pride is on the move, especially when adults seem to lose, all eagerness to get ahead.

Young males indulge in more aggressive games and assert their physical superiority around carcasses, on the other hand. Adolescents remain on the pride's territory even though they move around independently of other pride members with increasing frequency, during the period in which they are trained to hunt. But not for long, meetings with resident males are still friendly.

At last the time comes for males to leave the territory of their native pride. The resident males will have become very aggressive and even some of the females may encourage the hesitant young adult to leave the pride, when at last the time comes for males to leave the territory.

When they are young, the cubs manage to climb vertical tree trunks with their sharp little claws. A cub very much appreciates his mother's grooming. Lioness is welcomed warmly by her young upon returning from the hunt.

In the midst of the pride, cubs feel safe enough to play. They try their courage against each other and prepare for hunting through harmless games. To involve the adults in their games, they climb on the bodies of resting adults. When they are not in the best of health during the rare lean periods, they totally stop all games. Playing is part and parcel of their lives, otherwise.

Lions are particularly playful, like an elephant, monkeys, although their games are quite different from those of young baboons whose idea of fun includes hanging from another's tail while playing among the branches. Lion cubs love playing with the tail of a brother or an adult and rolling in elephant dung. Tortoise is also a great toy. They approach it fearlessly and beat on it a few times with their paws, naturally causing the tortoise to withdraw completely into its shell. They stand back and wait for further reactions. They try to pick it up in their mouths when nothing happens and this is no easy task. Races between cubs are fun to watch. It is not always a good idea, when they decide to play with a porcupine.

When lions, cheetahs, elephants, baboons, and other animal cubs play, take great risks, since they can sometimes stray away from their mothers without realizing it and predators are never too far away waiting for such an occasion. The benefits and advantages of playing are obvious, despite the risks.

A cub develops strength, by developing the body. Therefore, playing prepares cubs for what they will have to face throughout their lives. The young cubs learn cunningness and improve their skill and creativity on the playfield that is a schoolroom. When they will have to conquer a pride or hunt all these qualities will be of great help to them in their adult lives. Discoveries such as piece of wood or bone are generally shared by the young lions and if there are any quarrels they also learn to pit their strength against a companion.

Smaller cubs are not normally hurt by older cubs. Fights between young male cubs are generally more serious, as the sex of the cubs also influences play.

Play allows for violent instincts to be channelled. The stronger animals are placed at the same level of the weaker. Young elephants will be allowed to climb over adolescent elephants by the latter one kneeling. Likewise the older cubs within a pride will never use all their strength against a weaker companion and that is how they learn to play together. The individual with the upper hand also prolongs the pleasure of the play, by reducing his own chances of winning.

After an interval of almost three months I once more decided to visit Inkaya Nkalamo (Otospot). Upon my arrival, I saw Leo was seated in sphinx position on the lawn and many other cubs were playing with each other. Some of them racing with each other, some playing with each other's tail, while some were tumbling over each other.

I decided to go and seat next to Leo. Three other cubs were seated next to him. As I bent over Leo to kiss him, one of the cubs jumped onto my back, while the other cub from a different direction was holding to my sleeve. After a moment, the cub that was on my back, decided to reach for my head gripping himself with its claws, which were already sunk into my skin. The cub that was holding onto my sleeve managed to get a good grip and jumped onto my back. I did not want to disturb their play and let them win me.

All of a sudden, Leo decided to stand, and I was forced to tilt myself as to give him room to walk away. With this tilting myself, the cub who had reached for my head gripping himself with his claws to my forehead lost balance and scratched me deeply onto my head, and the other cub tumbled onto its back. I realized with this play how they train themselves for the later days to come.

It was really fun!

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Animals' Sleeping habbits vary

IT should surprise no one to learn that sleep is somewhat different in different animals as sleep varies phylogenetically. Indeed it would be truly amazing if all animals slept the same because animals differ so drastically in their anatomy, physiology, environment, and modes of adaptation to their environment.

Variations in the ways that animals sleep are intrinsically interesting from a naturalistic point of view. Giraffes' total daily sleep time in hours is 1.9, roe deer 3.09, pilot whale 5.3, man 8.0, Baboon 9.4, domestic cat 12.5, laboratory rat raff 13.0, Lion 13.5, Eastern chipmunk 15.8, Little brown bat 19.9.

Sleep habit, sleep places, and sleep postures vary greatly. Some mammals (moles and rabbits) sleep in burrows whereas others (zebra) sleep in the open. Some mammals (cattle) can sleep with their eyes open. Others (seals and hippopotami) spend part of their sleep under water. Some mammals (gorillas) settle into nests to sleep, whereas others (dolphins and porpoises) sleep while swimming. Furthermore, dolphins and porpoises can sleep with one half of their brain at a time while the other half is awake so as to permit these air breathing mammals to come to the surface to breathe periodically.

The fox sleeps curled up; the leopard straddles a tree limb; the bat sleeps hanging upside down. Some mammals sleep primarily at night (humans), while others sleep mostly during the day(rat).Horses spend the major portion of every 24-hours period standing, part of the time in NREM, by utilising passive locking mechanisms in their limbs. In spite of all these variations, is evidence that sleep is indispensable?

How much an animal's sleep is largely determined by its status as prey or predator-that prey animals sleep less because sleep makes them vulnerable? This theory is difficult to evaluate because predator-prey status is not generally as obvious as in the case of the lion and zebra, or the wolf and caribou. Some species are both predator and prey, and judgments of their vulnerability are often subjective. Also, it is far from clear that sleep significantly increases vulnerability to predation.

A major function of sleep is to protect animals from predation to keep them out of harmís way when they have satisfied their need for food, procreation. The reasons for the relationship between sleep and size are not entirely clear, but it is thought to have something to do with energy conservation, which is a much greater problem for smaller mammals then for larger mammals.

A lion's life is filled with sleeping, napping and resting. Over the course of 24 hours, lions have short bursts of intense activity, followed by long bouts of lying around that total up to 21 hours! Lions are good climbers and often rest in trees, perhaps to catch a cool breeze or to get away from flies. Lions lying around in crazy poses, on their backs with their feet in the air or legs spread wide open!

Lions and all cats, actually spend very much time at sleeping, simply because they can. Their special anatomy and physiology shows their organism is used to acting in abrupt impulses. A hunter doesnít need endurance and self-control, but intensive work in short period of time and distance. According to this, cats get great satisfaction during rest and respites.

Generosity among female lions is largely a matter of indifference. Females that have the least to lose, sleep best, owing either to the small size of their own litter or to the company of close relatives. Females spotted Hyenas have resolved the conflict by keeping their cubs in a well protected den. Mothers return to their cubs for short periods, feed their brood and then sleep somewhere else in peace.

Lions are known for their ability to sleep the day away. As the largest predator in their habitat, lions can afford to snooze for long periods of time without risking their lives. Sleeping may also make their meals last longer, a real benefit when you only eat an average of every other day. Lions also tend to be more alert at night, so catching them awake during the day is more of a challenge. Even with night time activity, they may still sleep up to 20 hours a day.

My visits to Sandile by now were more frequent and from the photographs it showed that we both were relaxed while being with each other. When I would enter his territory he would come to me greeting with his head pushing into me towards my abdomen and after grabbing his head and kissing him, he would just try to snooze on my arm and I would be patting him.

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Lions yawn when they are lying down

Yawning is an act of deep inspiration, followed by a lengthy, forceful expiration with simultaneous strong contraction of many skeletal muscle groups, and occasionally accompanied by lacrimation.

Fatigue, hunger and satiety have all been suggested as stimuli for yawning. Oxygen insufficiency causes yawning. Frequent or excessive yawning may accompany certain diseases of the central nervous system. A seriously sick mammal does not yawn, and when it does yawn again the danger is past.

They lower the head while opening the mouth to fullest extent, then raised the head again in normal horizontal position. The reaction occurs with the animal in the sitting, normal standing or low crouched postures.

Herbivores have seldom been observed yawning, but warm, well-fed, drowsy members of the Felidae often yawn, and domestic candies may yawn in certain social play situations.

Yawning is universal in mammals and birds, amphibians and certain reptiles also yawn. Although it is clear that members of these classes may open their mouth widely on occasion, it is not at all clear that they are yawning when they do so.

Yawning defined as a slow opening of the mouth, maintenance of the open position for more than 3s, followed by a more rapid closure of the mouth.

Lions yawn most often when they are lying down. Yawning is more frequent when the temperature is between 70 and 74 degrees F and decline when the temperature fell below or rose above this range. Yawning by lions occur most often just before feeding, when they presumably are hungry, and when the temperature is warm, but not hot.

Lions almost yawn at a rate of 1.2 yawns/hr. During morning hours there were relatively few yawns (0.8/hr) but there was a progressive increase before feeding time to 1.8 yawn/hr.

During and after feeding there was a sharp decline in the frequency of yawns (0.35 yawns/hr). Yawning, it stands to reason that sleepy lions would yawn a lot, but lions are most likely to yawn in situations where they are nervous and uncomfortable and often yawn just as they are about to get up rather than the opposite. They have a huge, pink tongue.

It is covered with hard, sharp papillae, rough enough to scrap meat from bones or make your skin bleed.

Lions are known to sit still for hours waiting and stalking prey. As these lions wait patiently and quietly for their next meal they constantly yawn. It is believed that this act is meant to increase the oxygen in their body and in turn increase their attentiveness and reflexes.

Two different type of yawns occurred in males. In one type the animal raised its head and opened its mouth so widely that its teeth was exposed, particularly the large canines that are characteristic of males. This response last 4-5s and is never seen in females.

In the second type of yawn, the head was raised only slightly, and the mouth did not open widely enough to expose the teeth, which remained covered by the lips. This response lasted only 1-2s and was shown by both sexes.

Only these shorter duration responses were scored as yawns. It appears likely that these were true yawns, whereas the larger duration response was really a 'bared-teeth display' shown exclusively by males.

Yawning is never observed just before sleep episodes. 8% of the yawns occur while the animal is lying down. The remaining 92% occur while animals were in sitting posture, but yawning is never observed while an animal is standing. As with the fish, the anticipation of major stimulus events may be associated with an increase in yawning by lions. Lions yawn in anticipation of metabolically expenses events such as feeding or fighting. Increased oxygen consumption and metabolic rate characterize such behaviours, but increasing respiration rate might accomplish the same adaptive outcome.

Some primates yawn in order to intimidate rivals by revealing their large teeth, but this doesn't appear to be the case with lions. Given how much time lions spend asleep, we might ask if they yawn just as a result of fatigue.

Another visit to Sandile, already 4yr 1mth by then. It was quite a sunny day, and was introduced to a new game ranger Harry. Gerald requested Harry to come along as you could not predict any thing with these feline members. As usual upon entering his territory was greeted by his head rubbing manner which I acknowledged by kissing him. He sat in his usual sphinx posture and had a series of photographs.

It was a sheer luck to get this picture with Sandile yawning, as the yawns lasts 1-2s. Whenever I look at this picture I thank the creator.

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Read: The Lion - by Gulamabbas Mohamedali Part 2

 

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Wildlife Details Fri, 29 Dec 2006 11:57:38 +0000
The Lion - by Gulamabbas Mohamedali Part 2 http://bushdrums.com/index.php/wildlife/item/3340-the-lion---by-gulamabbas-mohamedali-part-2 http://bushdrums.com/index.php/wildlife/item/3340-the-lion---by-gulamabbas-mohamedali-part-2

The Lion - by Gulamabbas Mohamedali - Part 2

 

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.

 

Know about Cat senses

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.

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Feline IV - HIV in Lions

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! 

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Man Eaters

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!

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Endangered Lion

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!

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Haunted by the Lion

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!

 

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Wildlife Details Fri, 29 Dec 2006 11:39:00 +0000