Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park
Livingstone, Zambia. 2009.
Canon EOS 400D
Canon EF 28-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS USM
f/5.6, 1/200s, ISO 100
RAW. As is.
One of the most memorable parts of my travels in Africa is the Lion Encounter, Walk with the Lions experience offered in Zambia.
This particular young lioness was rather bored by the fuss being made of her. As this is a daily ritual, I can see the novelty value of the experience has probably worn off for her and her sister – but not for us. It was a magical, once in a lifetime experience.
The program allows tourists to walk with (and even pet) the lions and their handlers in an environment that closely mimics the wild.
The ALERT program aims to reintroduce captive-bred lions and their offspring back into the wild to increase and diversify the diminishing population of lions in the wild.
It works via a three-step process in which lions, hand raised from cubs are slowly reintroduced into wild lion behaviours. The first step in the process is to socialize these animals with humans. This sounds counter-intuitive but this allows the handlers at ALERT to introduce and teach wild behaviours to captive bred lions.
The second step involves weaning them slowly from human contact, releasing them into and allowing them to traverse the safe, monitored property of the ALERT program. In this environment their natural instincts for hunting and breeding will return. It is expected several generations of lions to be born and raised in this manner. This step allows human study of lion hunting and pack behaviour which in turn aids them in reintroducing their captive bred lions to the wild.
The third step is the final release. The aim of the program is to release groups of lions back into environments where lion populations have all but died out. These lions will already have an established pack order and will be able to establish and defend their own territory.
The areas for release are chosen based on the size and their ability to sustain the extra intake of lions through available prey, water and territory.
There are many complications and potential dangers inherent in reintroducing lions back into the wild, most notably the likely conflicts with humans and their livestock following release; this may be especially true of captive bred lions that might not have learned human avoidance characteristics of some wild lions. There are several reasons that have been put forward to explain why past predator releases have had limited success (Sharma 2005):
• the animals were not given pre-release training
• their dependence on humans was not curtailed
• they were released as individuals with no natural social system
• and that they had no experience of predatory or competitive species.
for more information or to contribute to the program, please visit their website
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