The series took me to The Kingdom of the White Lion, an animal sanctuary established by Kevin Richardson – the lion whisperer – located 50-60km North of Johannesburg. My Bondi Vet team were involved in a number of cases at the Kingdom, including assisting with reproductive control in lions and the surgical removal of facial sarcoids.
Kevin and his family reside opposite the property where the animals are kept, allowing Kevin to work closely with the animals on a daily basis. As a self-taught animal behaviourist, Richardson has broken every safety rule known to humans when working with these wild animals. Flouting common misconceptions that breaking an animal’s spirit with sticks and chains is the best way to subdue them, he uses love, understanding and trust to develop personal bonds with them. His unique method of getting to know their individual personalities – what makes each of them angry, happy, upset, or irritated – has caused them to accept him like one of their own into their fold. Kevin has used his unique relationship with these large predators to make documentaries and commercials throughout South Africa and he has also been involved in various conservation and research projects in the Okavango Delta and Lydenberg area.
The Kingdom of the White Lion was established in 2006. Although primarily set up for the filming of the feature film Kevin produced called “White Lion-Home is a Journey”, the long-term plan was to provide a sanctuary for all the animals featured in the film as well as other animals that Kevin works with. The lions live in prides and Kevin aims for the lions to live as naturally as possible in a captive setting. The park is home to lion including the rare white lion, both brown and spotted hyena, black leopard, jaguar and a variety of antelope species including blue wildebeest, giraffe, impala, blesbok and nyala.
I was able to assist Kevin’s big cats with their “family planning”. Thanks to a generous donation from Virbac Australia, seven of Kevin’s female big cats were implanted with Suprelorin (deslorelin). The product is currently only licensed for use in male dogs for the temporary suppression of fertility but has been used off label in many different species for a variety of indications.
Just to brush up on your lion reproduction knowledge, lions are capable of breeding at around two to two-and-a-half years of age , however, the dominant adult male tends to control the sexual dynamics in the pride and females normally first conceive around three to five years of age ( if allowed). The lionesses generally cycle every 21-25 days if not on contraception. With 31 lions in the sanctuary, 12 of which are female, implantation is certainly a worthwhile exercise, even though the cats have to be anaesthetised for implantation!
The sanctuary has used a 9.4mg implant in the lionesses for 5 years now and finds that it suppresses oestrous for 2-3 years. Some of the leopards are now being implanted also. The implants are used to prevent unwanted pregnancies. The Kingdom functions as a conservation sanctuary and does not believe in breeding cats that can’t be released into the wild.
If you have ever been a bit nervous about the depth of anaesthesia of your surgical patients, then spare a thought for me as I operated face to face with “Napoleon”, a 13-year old lion, from whom I excised a nasal sarcoid (caused by the bovine papilloma virus) and “Myesha”, 3-year old female, who required excision of a sarcoid from her lip! Sweaty-palm stuff there!
Obviously you can’t anaesthetise a lion in quite the same way as you do a domestic cat – well no-one would agree to hold up the vein anyway – so we used a two metre long ‘pole syringe’ to give them their induction intramuscularly! After that I had to rely on Kevin’s experience with the cats to let me know when surgery time was up!
For more information on Kevin Richardson and his sanctuary, click here.
This article was supplied by Virbac.