I recently attended a birthday party for a 2 year old. She had no idea it was her birthday. A bit strange. Nor did her mother or father. Very strange.
It was just typical day for her, eating, sleeping, playing…however it was anything but typical for many close to her.
Her name is Wakanaka, and she is a young lion. In fact, a young lioness.
She is the first born into a semi-wild environment, as the offspring of captive bred parents. In the wild, the first years of a lions life is very difficult. Young cubs are at risk from numerous environmental stressors, such as predation, competition with older cubs and lack of resources.
At 2 years old, now deemed sub-adult, these young lions slowly assert their position within the pride. By giving these lions a large, secure area to hunt, breed and most importantly bond, they can develop away from the ever-growing threats that continue to impose on the wild areas of Africa.
This group of 12 lions are called the Ngamo pride, named after the area in Zimbabwe where they are situated.
Included in this pride of 12 are 4 other cubs like Wakanaka, born wild within the Ngamo release site and raised under the care and guidance of their captive born and raised parents. These cubs, like wild lions, know nothing of man and display all those human avoidance behaviours exhibited by wild lions when confronted by people.
In a few years, the pride will be released, into a much larger site (National Park, Conservation Area, etc), to help increase and improve the viability of those few remaining lion populations in Africa.
I had the privilege of filming this pride in the summer and fall of 2012, for a 6 part series called "Roaring with Pride" that will be aired in a few months on Animal Planet. Over the past few days I went back to Antelope Park, to visit Ngamo pride, and was amazed to see their progress in just a few months.