Time to #meetthelionesses 🦁🦁🦁 Save the… #savethelions

Thanks again to the keepers at Wellington Zoo, it was great to learn more about the care you provide.

Christmas and New Year were both quiet for me this year. I had been working solidly through until December on Mahuki, and freelance, including a couple of hours a week supporting a corporate accelerator. By the time Christmas rolled around, I hadn’t really had a chance to think or plan anything and just chilling out at home sounded like bliss.

After a quiet Christmas, both Jen and I wanted to do something a bit different to kick off the New Year. And that’s how we ended up back at Wellington Zoo, this time to meet the lions!

wellingtonzoo-lion

One of the lion brothers roaming the enclosure

Meeting the Queens of the Jungle

Just after lunchtime, we headed into the zoo and straight through to meet the keeper leading our group to meet the lions.

Wellington Zoo has two areas to the lion enclosure: one where the lions are able to roam around visible to the public from viewing areas; and the other ‘behind-the-scenes’ where the animals get some respite from the crowds and also where the keepers and vets provide additional care.

In the wild, most prides have multiple females who will live together continuously, but only ever a few males. Wellington Zoo houses a pride of African lions, including two males (Zulu and Malik) and three sisters. To reduce the chances of aggression between the lions in the zoo, they alternate which group (either the males or the females) of the pride are publicly visible every few days or so.

Our keeper-turned-guide talked us through common traits including the fact that lions – the second largest of the big cats, with the males weighing it at close to 200 kilos – are the laziest, and rest between 16–20 hours out of the day.
Zulu and Malik, the males, are brothers and this is one of the reasons they are able to live together long-term.

On the day that we were visiting, Zulu and Malik were out in the public-facing area – so we met the lionesses. We were introduced to the sisters – Djembe, Djane and Zahra – and our keeper talked about the different personalities each of them have, from the calmer, to the more cautious and observant, and the more active one.
The lionesses are considerably smaller than the males, around 100–120 kilos, but they were still plenty large enough.

  • Lion feeding

  • Lion feeding Lion feeding

Action shots as I feed one of the lionesses

  • Jen lion feeding

  • Jen lion feeding

Action shots as from Jen feeding the lionesses

Our guide talked us through the ways that they use a combination of techniques to work with the lions, including sound prompts paired with positive reinforcement (using a clicker, and pieces of raw meat).

He then demonstrated how this was put into action to track the wellbeing of the animals, with tests such as getting the lionesses onto the scales for weighing, or into the ‘alley-style’ cage, which is too narrow for the lions to turnaround or lash out when the vets need to take blood.

Towards the end of our time in with the sisters, we were given the opportunity to hand-feed them!
Despite the mesh separating us from the lions (and their teeth and claws) it was still a little daunting… To feed them, we had to cup a chunk of raw meat in our palm, and then hold it against the mesh for one of the sisters to come and nibble it out.

I was surprised to find how delicate the huge animals could be, but also how soft their tongues were as they tried to lick the meat away – less sand-papery than I had imagined!

It’s great to know that a portion of our experience goes to supporting the survival of lions, especially with less than 25,000 remaining in the wild in Africa today.

If you want to do more to save the lions, there are some great charities around like WWF where you can show your support.