Making Scents Of It All
August 8 2016

On the morning of the 17th of July, Milo, Ashanti, Nala, AS4 AS5 and KE4 were taking a casual stroll along the boundary of the Camp area of the site when the research team caught up with them.  It wasn’t long before Kenge joined the procession, and they all headed towards ‘Kruger’, where they met up with Phyre, Kwali, AT1 and KE3.

For the past two months we have been hosting a facilitated research student from the University of Glasgow who had chosen to base her project on lions’ response to a variety of olfactory enrichments.  This involved exposing four groups of lions of various ages, resident at Antelope Park, to scents including: catnip and lavender, as well as zebra and wildebeest dung.  Daily discussions around how our student’s study was proceeding got the Ngamo research team to thinking; why not expose the Ngamo pride to a little olfactory enrichment?  This of course had to be implemented naturally, meaning the team had to be very sneaky in how they placed the enrichments in the release site for the pride to find.  So, while the pride basked together that morning, the team devised their game plan.

By the afternoon, the pride had once again shuffled around and just Phyre, Kenge, KE3 and KE4 were found resting in Etosha.  This was a perfect opportunity to drop some wildebeest dung, as there were fewer eyes to spoil the covert operation.  The team slyly scattered the dung whilst the lions slept, then took up their position as usual to conduct data collection.  Once again, just like the morning, the rest of the pride began to trickle along to join Phyre and co.  First to arrive was AT1, shortly followed by AS5, AS4, Milo, Ashanti, Nala and then Kwali.  At first it seemed as if the dung was going to go unnoticed, but just as the team were beginning to give up hope, AS5 held his nose to the air and began to sniff.  A moment or so later he had risen from his rest and he was making his way over to the dung.  Of course, Milo had to join AS5 in his exploration, and it wasn’t long before the two males were fully immersed in investigating the scent and rolling together on the ground.  Success!

AS5 smells something in the air

The team were now keen to try out another scent, and so they made a plan to expose the pride to lavender.  On the 27th, allowing 10 days to pass to avoid any habituation, the team repeated their tactics and artfully placed a branch infused with lavender oil not far from the pride as they all slept blissfully in ‘Amboseli’.  Once again the team took up their position and waited for any response.  This time it was KE3 who picked up on the enrichment, and once she had discovered the source of the scent she clutched the branch between her paws and licked at it as she rolled on the ground.   Then, just as our student predicted, KE3 let out a sneeze; a response to lavender she had recorded on her own study groups.  Next it was KE4 who came to investigate, and while she didn’t spend as long rolling on the ground with the branch as her sister, she too let out a sneeze!  The team chuckled to themselves as they made their notes and then headed out of the site for the day, leaving the pride to enjoy the novel aroma.

KE3 investigates the lavender oil

About the Ngamo Lion Release Site

The 6 adults (1 male and 5 females) of the ‘Ngamo Pride’ were captive born and released into the ‘Ngamo Lion Release Site’ in 2010, 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 5 offspring (1 male and 4 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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