A lion sighting never fails to impress – they’re such magnificent beasts to watch. Whether they’re resting under a tree, on the prowl, or ripping into dinner, there can never be any doubt about who’s the king of the bush.
Unfortunately, they’re vulnerable too, which makes conservation efforts even more critical to their survival.
During my recent stay at the five-star Safari Plains, I was incredibly fortunate to participate in a lion collaring on the Greater Mabula Private Game Reserve, just a two-hour drive from Johannesburg.
It goes without saying that it was a thrilling, once-in-a-lifetime experience – plus a unique chance to watch their incredible ecology and reserve management teams in action.
Here’s a rundown on what went down …
Before setting out, we were fully briefed by Andy Fraser, the wildlife vet from Rooiberg. He knows the reserve well and assists the teams with most of their reserve management interventions. He explained that replacing the device would include darting the lion with an immobilising drug.
Of course, darting is a tricky procedure, and the real challenge was separating the male from the rest of the pride. A zebra carcass was used to lure the females away so the vet could get a clear view of the male for the darting. Bet the male was wondering when his dinner was coming!
It took about 10 minutes for the lion to fall asleep. It was only then that the vet gave the OK for everyone to get out of their vehicles. The females had moved away, but fortunately there were people keeping watch just in case.
Invited to come up close to the lion, I could feel his soft mane, measure my hand against his enormous paws and even touch his tongue.
Once the new collar was fitted, which is critical for monitoring, research and security purposes, the lion received a thorough check-up, various vaccinations and some treatment for tick infestation. How’s the size of those canines?
It took 10 men to lift the lion onto a scale so that he could be weighed and measured. While there were bets among the team on who would guess the correct weight, the vet settled the score at 238kg. Now that’s some size for a strapping young lion.
Once the teams had completed their work, it was time to give the lion a drug to mobilise him again. This took a few minutes to take effect – time enough for everyone to get safely back into the vehicles.
Without a backward glance, he casually made his way back into the bush with his brand-new collar!