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Born Free USA Global Field Projects

Safia Meets Dolo

Published 06/15/11

Ethiopian Wildlife Center project images
(Photograph by Born Free Foundation)

(By Stephen Brend, the Ethiopian Wildlife Center’s director. Follow his blog.)

With Dolo settled in his new home, it was time to think about moving Safia up to join him. For both Dolo and Safia, the company of another lion would be psychologically beneficial. Lions are, after all, the most social of the cats.

Safia had just about out-grown her temporary enclosure, and Dolo’s ‘range’ offered enough space for both of them. However, there were a few complications. Foremost amongst these was the fact that we had no idea how either one of them would react to meeting another lion, both having lived all their lives alone.

Everyone who has ever introduced lions says that the initial meeting usually involves a lot of noise, roaring, and screaming. Sometimes there is bloodshed! The thought of Safia being mauled or Dolo getting swiped, filled me with dread.

Another complication was that Born Free Foundation has a strict non-breeding policy. There are already too many animals in captivity; we do not want to breed more. So we had to get Safia onto some form of contraception. John Knight, our senior consultant vet, gave me the required implants, and wished us luck. On the designated day, I went to the fridge, pulled out the implants and was horrified to read the blurb:

“For the Induction of temporary infertility in healthy male dogs.”

What?! Here we were about to undertake an overwhelmingly nerve-ranking action and John was giving me drugs for dogs. I had Rea, our local consultant vet on the phone about 30 seconds later. She convinced me that the choice of drug was, in fact, right; what works on male dogs is (I still struggle to get my head around it) the contraceptive of choice for female lions….

So we all met at the site in preparation to anaesthetise Safia so we could inject the implants and move her to her new enclosure. Rea did the darting. Safia roared when hit, pranced around and then settled down to watch us watch her. What she did not do was go to sleep. Dart number two went in and seemed to nudge her towards the land of nod, but when we approached her from behind and tugged her tail to check she was out, she moved! More waiting was clearly required. Finally, she passed out.

With much effort we got the contraceptive implants into her (lion skin is tough!), we then stretchered her to the waiting crate, drove her up to the shelter adjoining Dolo’s range and stretchered her out. All OK so far. We placed her down in the room, in a comfortable position, and then withdrew to watch.

She woke up five hours later! I do not know what it is with Safia, but we had the same problem in December. She resists succumbing to the anaesthetic for ages but then takes forever to come around. And, by the time she did this time, Dolo had started roaring. And he roared and roared and roared.

Unashamedly, I confess to being a novice at running a dating agency for lions. All I knew was that Dolo’s noise was decidedly unfriendly to my ears and felt certain it would be much the same to Safia’s. I called Alison Hood, my boss in the UK, in the middle of the night to ask for advice. She sympathised with Safia but also recognised that there was nothing we could do about Dolo. He was after all just being a male lion. “See how they are in the morning” was Alison’s final suggestion.

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