The Last Lioness

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It was a cry of such loneliness and despair that everyone who heard it that night vowed that they had to act – and act fast. The lioness named Lady Liuwa was so lonely that she had come to us humans, camped in the Liuwa National Park in Zambia, looking for company. She was the last surviving lioness in Liuwa – and her loneliness was enveloping her – her dreams of belonging to a pride and of motherhood long gone.

In November 2001, myself and Dirk Visagie put a small group of adventurers together to go and explore the totally wild and unknown Liuwa Plains in the far Western Zambia. There were no proper roads and it took us four days to drive from Katima Mulilo in the Caprivi Strip of Namibia to Kalabo. We picked up a Zambia Wildlife Authority ranger by the name of David Mubiana in Kalabo. Poaching was still a huge problem in Liuwa and tourists were not allowed without an armed escort into the Park.

This was the times before campsites and one could camp wild anywhere in one of the tree islands in the Matamanene area. It was also the times before African Parks Conservation took over the management of Liuwa Plains and it were also the times when David Mubiana and his colleagues made use of tourist’s vehicles to conduct anti-poaching patrols and transport poachers back to Kalabu.

The extraordinary story of how Lady Liuwa turned to humans for companionship and love – and how they, in turn, fought to find her a family – has become one of the most moving wildlife stories of all time.

As the ZAWA rangers did not have any vehicles to patrol the Park, the resident pride of lions was the biggest threat to the poachers. David told us the moving tale that her entire pride had been slaughtered by the poachers. One young female, Lady, was not with the pride at that point and time and had somehow managed to survive. She was then the last lion left in the National Park.

We found her quite often on safari in Liuwa and she would almost every time make the extraordinary move of walking towards our vehicle, dropped down onto her back and rolled over, purring deeply. This was a wild animal who was greeting us with an unheralded display of friendship. Despite memories of the poachers who had killed her pride, she was still willing to trust human beings, and to accept us.

In 2007, Craig Reid, the newly appointed Project Coordinator for Liuwa National Park arrived in the Park and he decided that Lady needed companions of her own kind.

Relocating lions is always a complicated endeavour. The stress and dangers of tranquilizing and transporting pose a significant threat to the lions’ health. Unfortunately, the first attempt to bring a single male lion from nearby Kafue National Park to Liuwa Plain resulted in tragedy, with the male dying. Courageously, the team continued their quest. A coalition of two young male brothers without a pride were located. On May 11, 2009 the two brothers were successfully relocated from Kafue National Park to Liuwa Plain.
On October 18th, 2011 two young lionesses were captured in Kafue National Park and located to Liuwa Plains. The Lonely Lioness was no longer alone.
Females do 85 to 90 percent of the pride’s hunting, while the males patrol the territory and protect the pride, for which they take the “lion’s share” of the females’ prey.

It was November 2013, and time for the annual Leisure Wheels safari to Liuwa Plains in Western Zambia. I decided to invite Eben Delport from Uri Adventures to go on patrol with me and the rest of the Leisure Wheels safari group.

We met Eben and Maritha in Katima Mulilo. After stocking up with provisions and fuel we head for the Wenela border post with Zambia. Those of you who have been to Zambia before will know about the effort to go through a Zambian border post with regarding to customs, immigration, carbon tax, Temporary Import Permits and council levy….each at a different counter, container or dilapidated old caravan. We however got a very pleasant surprise……at the Wenela border post it is not the case anymore. There is a brand new border post building and as everything is under one air-conditioned roof, the procedure was plain sailing.
The two nights at Kabula Lodge, our first stop over in Zambia, were as usual a memorable experience. There are lovely chalets and still the best campsite in Africa. We had a full day at leisure and everybody jumped at the opportunity to go tiger fishing on the Zambezi. Melanie Jacobs walked away with the trophy for the biggest fish landed. Sorry to the manne from Kokstad………maybe next time!
The brand new – Chinese built – tar road from Sesheke to Nangweshi speeded up the travelling quite a lot. We stopped at the elephant corridor where Andre explained about the “new” migration route of elephants from Botswana, Caprivi and Angola into Zambia. After a visit to the Ngonye Falls at Sioma and a night’s wild camping just before we entered the Barotse Floodplains, we reached Kalabo.
After Corne did the admin at the office of African Parks, we crossed the Luanginga River by hand driven pontoon. This is a typical old Africa experience and always a “Kodak moment”. From here it was time to enter Liuwa Plains National Park.
The group of 19 camped at Katonyana for the two nights. On the first morning Andre took the convoy on a game drive to the north and north of the “Figtree” we came upon the big herds of wildebeest that came down to the plains to have their young. We spend the whole morning driving around in the herds and taking photographs of thousands of wildebeest and their beautiful new born calves.

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