Visitors last week will have noticed that the carnivore section has been closed. This is because we have been reintroducing our three bachelor male lions to the main habitat with the aim to create a functional pride.
The decision to introduce vasectomised males, Sam, Scooter and Mojo, was taken following the sad loss of pride male, Kenya, in November 2015.
There are times when our pride will be on view but not on the drive through reserve. This is an important step in the reintroduction process and allows our keepers to monitor their interaction and keep a close eye on the behaviour of all lions.
Eveline de Wolf, Head of Animal collection at Knowsley Safari comments: “At Knowsley Safari, we continuously work to create the best environment and the highest levels of welfare standards for all of our animals. By doing this, we encourage them to live a life that resembles their natural habitat and social structure as closely as possible.
“Our team has worked meticulously for months to prepare and, so far, the introduction is going well, with the expected scuffles but also females flirting with the males. However, as in the wild, situations can change rapidly and although this is not something we can control, we will continue to monitor the pride closely over the coming months.”
Keep fully up to date on the progress of our pride throughout this reintroduction by visiting our Facebook page.
Will you be breeding any more lions?
The stud book breeding recommendations for our lions is not to continue breeding in order to avoid over-representation of their bloodline. Reproductive mitigation has been ensured through vasectomy of our male lions. This prevents them from breeding whilst still retaining the natural behaviours of a male lion.
If you’re not going to breed them, why have you reintroduced the males to the pride?
African lions are very social animals and live in a group called a pride, consisting of anywhere from two to 40 individuals. After the loss of our pride male, Kenya, who reigned at Knowsley for 13 years, the animal team spent time assessing the best course of action to fill the spot of pride male.
A pride with a coalition of brothers is very common in the wild. Kinship in lion society is very important and well respected, so this can certainly work in our advantage to successfully establish a pride with a male coalition.
What preparations were taken to get ready for this reintroduction?
For several months the lion team has been slowly preparing our lions for this introduction, observing closely all individuals, giving them visual and olfactory access to each other through a barrier and allowing them to explore each other’s territory. By allowing the lions to become familiar with one another’s scent, look, and temperament, the lion keepers were able to ease the introduction process. Each interaction of the lions was carefully observed and analysed.
Is aggression/fighting normal for lions?
Fights and scuffles between lions, to assert dominance, is an expected part of the process and it is important to give the animals space and time to let them work it out amongst themselves. These interactions may appear quite aggressive, relative to human behaviour, however, our animal team is very experienced and know our lions extremely well. We analyse and monitor behaviour daily to ensure the welfare of all our lions.
Do you think you will be breeding in the future?
There are no plans to breed lions at Knowsley Safari in order to avoid over-representation in accordance with the European Breeding Programme. The males have all been vasectomised to prevent breeding, yet maintain natural behaviours.
Who has stepped into place as the pride male?
In a coalition of lions such as this, there is not just one pride male. Typically, subgroups are formed and hierarchy is dynamic.
What differences will I notice when visiting?
This weekend (14th May), the lions will be housed within their compound and not free roaming in the enclosure. This is important for the welfare of the pride, allowing our keepers to keep a close eye on their interaction and monitor progress on the reintroduction
Male coalitions, although very common in the wild, are not often seen within safari parks, so when they are out and roaming, this new coalition at Knowsley Safari will provide visitors with a unique insight into lion behaviours that they may not have seen before.
What happens if they start fighting?
Intervention processes have been meticulously planned to manage aggression in accordance with official guidelines. The team are prepared to use the sudden noise from fire extinguishers to distract the lions and then separate them.
What preparation have you done to minimise this?
Although we have prepared meticulously for this introduction for months, as in the wild, it is very common for new males entering a pride to have aggressive interactions. Dominance is an expected part of the process and it is important to give the animals space and time to let them work it out amongst themselves.
Lions are apex predators, they are not tame or domesticated. They are powerful animals which are adapted for killing quickly. Understanding their behaviour has set the foundation for the preparations made during the reintroduction process.
The keepers have all been fully prepared and clear strategies have been put in place prior to reintroduction to mitigate circumstances.