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Lions prepare to leave for a long romantic holiday

Media release
18 December 2008

Lions prepare to leave for a long romantic holiday

At four and a half years old, Wellington Zoo’s two male African lions look like fully-grown adults, but they have yet to master the definitive art of mating.

On Tuesday 23 December the lions will leave the Zoo to both complete this final rite of passage and do their bit for the conservation of their species, through a one-year breeding loan to Orana Wildlife Park in Christchurch.

Malik and Zulu came to Wellington Zoo as four-month old cubs from Auckland Zoo in 2004. They now weigh an average of 190kg, a bulk that will demand all hands on deck to lift them up and into travelling crates for their journey across the Cook Strait by ferry.

The transfer from enclosure to the crates requires that the lions be anaesthetised, and the Zoo’s veterinarian team have been working towards this moment alongside the keepers who care for the big cats.

Dr Katja Geschke, Manager Conservation and Veterinary Science at the Zoo says the lions have been well-conditioned to medical procedures and that she hopes to be able to hand-inject the anaesthesia this afternoon.

“They’ve been trained to lean against the mesh for injections, and this really does minimise any stress they face during such procedures,” Dr Geschke says.

She says the lions will only be anaesthetised for the transfer from their enclosure to the crate, but will be given a long-acting sedative for the duration of the journey to Christchurch.

Mauritz Basson, General Manager of Operations, says that although Zoo staff will miss the lions, the female lions at the Zoo will keep both keepers, and visitors to the Zoo, busy and interested.

“While the boys are away, we’ll look at renovating the big cats’ enclosures so that one day we can house the males and females together as a pride,” Mr Basson says.

“This is a really good example of the way in which zoos and wildlife parks co-operate for the sake of a species’ conservation. Any offspring that result will be strong and healthy in terms of genetics, as would any cubs born from matings between the lions and our own lionesses at Wellington Zoo, which of course we hope one day to achieve,” he says.

Linda Cook, lion keeper, has no doubt that Malik and Zulu will meet the expectations of staff at Orana Wildlife Park who are looking forward to the possibility of cubs.

“They are lovely big boys, and instinct will undoubtedly kick in when the time comes. As it is they spend a lot of time roaring back and forth with the lionesses here, so it seems they’re ready to make the next step.”

Orana Wildlife Park Animal Collection Manager, Ian Adams, says staff are looking forward to meeting the lions that will re-start their breeding programme.

“Our last breeding male, Toby, died in 2006 and the last litter of cubs was born in 2003. Staff and volunteers have been eagerly awaiting the arrival of a new male lion so to be bringing two cats to the Park is fantastic.


© Scoop Media

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