May 7-10, 2008 - Around The World, Days 12-15 - Lions, South Africa

May 8, Sabi Sands
Our ranger gets a call on the radio that a pride of lions are being darted and tested for bovine tuberculosis.
They wanted help...

Our "job" was to keep an eye on the pride matriarch while the cubs are being measured and tested.

So, while the veteranarian staff does their thing, we watch the mom.

Oh - did I mention there was a full-grown male we needed to keep an eye on...?

He was darted earlier, but we all take notice when he gets up and starts walking around...

His dart would have been in his hind quarter, but it fell out.
No idea what that thing is under his tail...

We chase him in our rover for a while and keep a spotlight on him.
The vets finally dart him.

He doesn't like it very much...

The second female starts checking out what is going on...

The male's down, so she looks back to her cubs.

Keep looking...

Darting is hard stuff. They have to calculate how much anesthesia to give them based on estimated body mass. They also have to guess how far away they'll be and where they'll hit the animal so they know how to calibrate the rifle (to achieve precise penetration).
For the male, it was worse; they had to guess how much juice he got before the dart fell out...

So, she resists it for a while.
I can't describe the feeling of watching this big animal fight so hard to keep an eye on her offspring. She sat down for a while - maybe 5 minutes, then got back up. She basically lost control of her back legs after about 10 minutes after being darted and was falling all over the place, all the while looking straight at her cubs.
She fell onto some branches and tree stumps and the ranger was afraid that she may hurt herself. (Our ranger was pretty shaken up by watching the mom fight so hard, just like we were. We were speechless watching her. So noble.)

This is how they attracted them. They killed a buffalo and played the sounds of a dying animal over and over, very loudly.

After the last female was darted, we moved closer to the cubs.

The researchers were still working on some.

Some of the cubs were bigger than others...

This little one was having a hard time waking up.

So, they put the male on a tarp and drug him out into the open.

Big fella.
He's totally out, even though the eyes are still open.

We got to pet them. The hair is very thick and coarse - not nearly as soft as it looks.
Though the fur looks and smells pretty clean (much less smelly than the average outdoor dog), you have to think about one thing... They eat raw meat, then lick themselves. They're basically walking disease factories.

Jill gets her turn.
Look how long he is!
Then we realize we look like poachers and stop posing with them.
There are lots of researchers doing this and that... They're rushing, because a very drugged and slightly awake lion would get frightened and probably kill someone with the swipe of a paw.
The coolest thing was the rangers had their pictures in front of the lions, too. They were just as excited as us to do this!

The female has her eyes open, too, and keeps licking.

We get to feel her paws.
They were very heavy - and her nails are huge, too!

We get to pull her lips back to check out her teeth.

Mufasa is still out.
So majestic, even in this condition.

"In the jungle, the mighty jungle..."

They bring the other, larger female over and flip the male.

After being there for about two hours, we take one final look at the scene and head back to Exeter for dinner.

May 10, Sabi Sands
On the last drive, we find another small pride of lions, which used to number around 20.
This mufasa is having a little siesta.

Simba keeps an eye on the horizon.
There is a large male white rhino grazing nearby. I don't think they want any accidents. There would be no winners there - just losers.

One last licking of the chops...

Then a snarl...

That lion would bite you!!