In the release phase of the programme, a pride of lions is released into a fenced and managed wild environment. The intention is that the lions form a socially stable and self-sustaining pride within which cubs are successfully raised, without human contact.
Two release areas are currently operational and land has been secured for further sites. ALERT and its operational partners are attempting to raise funds to proceed with the development of these sites.
The Dambwa Forest Release Site
The land is leased to ALERT (Zambia) through a Forestry Concession Agreement, signed on 10th August, 2006. An Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) was conducted following public consultation meetings at which local communities and other stakeholders were able to suggest areas of concern that should be considered during the EIA process. The completed EIA was submitted to the Environmental Council of Zambia (ECZ) in November 2007 for its consideration. ECZ gave approval for the program on 30th May 2008 and the Forestry Department confirmed that construction of the site could commence in May 2009. The site was used as a night encounter area for some months after its completion in July 2010 with modifications made between June and August 2011 to convert its use to release area. This site has been fully funded by Lion Encounter Zambia at a cost of US$550,000.
On August 26th, 2011 Mr Peter Mumba, then Permanent Secretary for the Ministry of Tourism, the Environment & Natural Resources for the Republic of Zambia released a pride of six females aged +- 3 years old into the 707-acre site; those lions being Kela, Kwandi, Leya, Loma, Rusha & Temi. On December 12th, 2011, a male (Zulu) was introduced to the pride and settled in well with the females.
In June 2013 the pride gave birth to their first cubs when Rusha had two females and a male cub. A second litter born in January 2014 to Leya was two males and one female.
The Ngamo Release Site
On September 1st, 2010 Francis Nhema, Zimbabwe’s Minister for the Environment and Natural Resources opened the 403-acre Ngamo release site next to Antelope Park in central Zimbabwe. The land has been leased from local government authorities. Whilst ALERT has developed and maintains the site, the fence of the site itself has been provided by Antelope Park at a cost of c. US$250,000.
Ngamo became the new home of the six Dollar Block veterans (see later in the text for details of Dollar Block); females Ashanti, Phyre, Kenge, Nala, Narnia and Athena as well as new additions to the pride; Milo (male) and Kwali (female).
The females were released first, and within 24 hours they had made two kills on a juvenile zebra and a juvenile wildebeest. Within the first couple of days they had started to show similar behaviour to what we had observed at Dollar Block; whilst they spend a lot of time together, the nature of a dynamic pride sees sub-groups break off from time to time, whether it’s for hunting or just exploring.
Two weeks after the release it was agreed that the females had created a stable pride environment and proved they were capable of being self-sufficient. We took the decision that it was time to introduce a seven-year-old male, Milo, who had been held in a neighbouring enclosure to the females for many months prior to release to instigate the bonding process. Whilst, there was some anxiety over whether some of the females, mainly Phyre, would submit to Milo’s dominance; our worries were quickly subdued as each female acknowledged his presence and submitted accordingly.
The pride has had cubs (five surviving) that were born and are being raised within the release site.