30 Sep Lion contraception
A massive growth in our lion population and a crash in the market for free-roaming lions left Welgevonden with a large lion population during the last two years. This resulted in a massive and visible reduction in our prey population. However, although other predators like leopard and wild dog also had an influence, the large lion population and the way they have split up played a large role in this.
We are currently in the process of reducing the lion population but are also implementing a contraception program for all the remaining lionesses. This will allow us to control the breeding rate of the lions, and also allow us to decide which lionesses we want to breed with and give us a valuable tool to minimize inbreeding.
As with the elephants, the intention is not to stop all breeding but to reduce the breeding rate, and selected lionesses will be allowed to breed from time to time to retain a normal population structure. However, no breeding for the next two years is planned. This will hopefully allow the lions, especially the western pride, to re-establish their pride structures, and at the same time allow the predation on the prey population to stabilize. Hopefully the same will happen with the prey populations and that the downward trend of all prey species can be turned into an upward trend again.
At the time of writing, only two lionesses have been contracepted, but all the remaining lionesses will hopefully be contracepted by the end of October. The contraception is done by Prof Henk Bertschinger from Onderstepoort and is actually a very simple process. Because this is a first-time contraception, the lioness is checked for pregnancy via sonar. If she is in an early pregnancy, a hormone treatment will abort the embryo. She then also receives the contraception drug, which is in the form of a small tablet that is implanted under the skin and has a slow release time. This drug will work for 12 to 18 months, after which she needs to be contracepted again if we don’t want her to breed. If we do want her to breed, she is simply not contracepted again and will fall pregnant after 18 months without any negative consequences. Only time will tell how effective this program will be, but we are confident that we will achieve our objectives.