Orphaned lionesses in the Sylvester Pride both now have cubs

Conservation in action as orphaned lionesses raised completely in the wild now both have cubs

– The Sylvester pride doubles with the birth of two more cubs, bringing total to eight lions at Kuzuko

There has been much media attention around the ethics involved in raising lion cubs in captivity, placing the spotlight on the fact that conservation and naturalisation, when done right is always the preferred option. It is with this that Kuzuko Lodge, a member of Legacy Hotels & Resorts, is delighted to confirm that both of its once orphaned lionesses (raised completely wild) now have cubs.

“The story of Nicka and Angel is one of pure conservation and dedication and highlights that young lions can be raised wild, without human intervention. Their story started in the winter of 2014 when a lioness in Addo Elephant National Park, named Gina, gave birth to cubs, however in the same December she died from a suspected snake bite and the young cubs disappeared into the bush,” says Gerhard de Lange, reserve general manager at Kuzuko Lodge.

The park feared they were dead and called on the help of the South African public and visitors to the park to help search for the little orphans but to no avail. Weeks passed until the cubs were spotted by a field guide. The cubs were then captured and placed into a holding boma – emaciated and starving, they soon fattened up in the boma. But their future was uncertain as it is against the conservation principles of South Africa’s leading conservation authorities to raise wild animals in captivity.

The management of Addo then approached Gerhard de Lange, from where it was decided to move these two little female cubs into a 300ha holding area within the confines of the Kuzuko Lodge reserve. De Lange was tasked to not only look after the little orphans, but to find a way to raise them wild – ensuring they were brought up without any human contact – specifically no handling, walking with them or touching them.

“We called the cubs Angel and Nicka and from the start they were determined to survive. We just needed to find ways to encourage their natural instincts without interfering with them,” states de Lange.

Using his vehicle as a means to get close to the cubs without directly engaging with them, the cubs soon saw the vehicle as a member of their pride and started hunting with the vehicle. The hunts started off with encouraging them to chase mice, rats, monkeys and guineafowl. And in December of 2015, they hit a major milestone – their first kill – a vervet monkey. The method proved to be so successful that by one and a half the lionesses had caught and killed their first kudu bull entirely on their own.

“The process of bringing these cubs up has been the highlight of my conservation career,” says De Lange. “The amazing thing is that they still follow this hunting behaviour now as adults and they are completely self-sufficient and 100% integrated into the wild, where in the beginning their future was completely uncertain.”

Once the cubs were fully independent they were introduced to the famous escape artist Sylvester who is another success story of the conservation efforts of Kuzuko, and shortly after that, Sylvester was bonded by De Lange into a coalition with another young male Fielies.

“There is no greater reward in this industry than being proved right by Mother Nature. You have heard the story of Angel who partnered up with Sylvester and gave birth to two healthy cubs during June this year and now we can share the story of Nicka who partnered up with Fielies – and who gave birth to her two healthy cubs during August,” says De Lange.

“These four special animals who make up the Sylvester pride all had no future ahead of them. Today we celebrate not just their survival, but their integration into nature and their contribution to the circle of life as both lionesses are now mothers. The best part of it? I cannot walk with them, I cannot call them, and I cannot touch them – this is an example of a rare conservation success story and one we need to hear more of if we are to ensure the future of Africa’s wild lions,” ends De Lange.

The Kuzuko team are happy to report that while they had a couple of nervous weeks from the moment they realised the females were being suckled, to the actual sightings of the cubs, the little guys are doing well. Angel and Sylvester’s pride and joy are now 14 weeks old and Nicka and Fielies’ family are 8 weeks old. The team see them often and they have become a firm favourite of the many guests to Kuzuko who come from all over the world.

Kuzuko Lodge – We Make Conservation Happen