Lion vs Bitis arietans!
February 9 2016

It was the morning of the 1st of February when an unexpected visitor came to the release site.  

The research team did their usual search for the pride with the telemetry set in hand, listening intently for a signal through the now wildly tall grass.  Fortunately, it didn’t take too long to find the lions, helped by the whole pride popping their heads up to watch their daily observers approaching, before relaxing once more.  

Usually, when the lions are at rest they put their all into it doing it well.  Seldom does the movement from the pride extend beyond a flick of a tail, a twitch of an ear, or a quick nip at a paw to displace an annoying fly.  But not this time.  One moment the pride of twelve were fast asleep with hardly any movement between them, yet in the blink of an eye everything changed.  It all happened so fast. 

It started with RS1 seeming to become bored with resting.  After glancing around, she found something to keep her preoccupied for a while.  At first the researchers thought she was pawing at a stick.  But sticks don’t move!

Suddenly RS1 jumped a metre into the air, startling the whole pride who all quickly responded with the same motion!  While the pride was looking at RS1, and then sniffing near where the intruder was slithering quickly away, RS1 was frantically pawing at her face over and over, running around seemingly not sure what to do.  In a matter of minutes RS1s face began to swell tremendously.  The research team sat there in shock, not quite comprehending what had just happened.  They looked around for the culprit, but the puff adder was nowhere to be found.  Probably for the better!  Poor RS1!  She continued to snort and wipe her face, trying to sooth where she had been bitten.  

Lions have incredible immune systems and are known to quickly recover from snake bites from a variety of venomous snakes.  The research team went into the release site the next day to check on the youngster and her face was twice the size as the day before!  Photographic evidence was taken for her health records, as well as for monitoring.  The swelling didn’t seem to bother her too much that day, but occasionally she did clean her face, even though there were no marks to be seen through the binoculars.  The team checked on her again the following day and, to their relief, her swelling was nearly gone.  As far as learning lessons goes, we think RS1 will think twice before playing with mobile sticks again!

About the Dambwa Lion Release Site

The 6 adults (1 male and 5 females) of the ‘Dambwa Pride’ were captive born and released into the ‘Dambwa Lion Release Site’ in 2011, having been walked in the rehabilitation phase of the ex situ conservation project, the African Rehabilitation and Release into the Wild Programme.  The pride’s 6 offspring (3 male and 3 females) were born in the site and have had no human contact, display natural behaviours, and are intended for release into the wild in the final phase of the Programme.

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