Wednesday, February 17, 2010
Frikkie has been playing a bit of "lion chess" the last two days. He's moving individual lions around for various reasons. In addition, the vets need to put microchips into all the lions--there's a new law that large carnivores in Namibia need to be identified and chipped. It's to help with poaching, black market selling, and so on.
So yesterday morning, I went with Frikkie, the two vets, Desmond and Andrea, Gary, and some volunteers. The interesting thing is that the lions seem to sense when they're going to be darted--at least they figure out something is suspicious--and they disappear. And once one is darted, they start "talking" to each other from enclosure to enclosure, and all the others disappear, too.
So it took us some time to find Lerato hiding in the bush. Then we lured her out with a slab of ribs (extra rare, no sauce). Then Desmond darted her. It was just like Nat Geo channel. I'll include the video. (Actually, what we eventually learned is that we had darted the other female in the enclosure, Teri. But that was fine. Either was good for our purposes and both had to be done eventually. We probably all look alike to them as well as the other way around.)
Then we had to wait about 20 minutes for the drug to take complete effect (longer is better when you're talking about an angry darted lion). The dart must not have hit a muscle because she didn't sleep. Desmond had to dart her again. Finally she went to sleep.
It took six people to pick up the stretcher with the lioness on it and move it to the truck. Then we moved to Elsa's enclosure with our sleepy girl. Then we darted Elsa--who is so tame that she just stood there and let Desmond do it--what a sweetie.
A lot of you out there know that recently Elsa lost her enclosure pal, Sara, our oldest lion and the last of the South African lions that Marieta rescued from a bad zoo near Port Elizabeth. She was in her 20s--old by a lion's standards. (Those SA lions were the genetic base of nearly all the lions here at Harnas. ) Anyway, Elsa has been lonely since then, and she needed a friend. (She would stand at the fence when I'd go visit her and make this sad noise somewhere between a whine and moan.)
We put the two females (Teri is actually Elsa's daughter; Lerato is her granddaughter) under two trees close together so they could wake up slowly with each other and therefore wouldn't fight. (It's no fun to fight with a hangover, I guess.) They're up and around today--no problems.
It sounds easy, but there was a lot of driving through the bush, looking for lions who don't want to be found, and waiting. We tried again today for some different ones to move around, but word was definitely out, and nobody was getting darted today. If a lion doesn't want to be found, it's a good chance it won't--unless it's really hungry. Maybe tomorrow.
All in all it was amazing. When I was a kid I dreamed of doing this kind of thing--I used to love National Geographic specials, Jacques Cousteau shows, and Wild Kingdom. I don't know how I ended up teaching literature to college kids, but our roads often take turns we don't understand. At least I'm getting to take part in this right now--and for that, I'm immensely grateful and humbled.