Shenzi (meaning 'leader of the pack') was found weak and near death, at a waterhole on a cattle farm, bordering the world-renowned Etosha National Park. As we have no precise record of how Shenzi lost his mother, we suspect that the lioness left the confines of Etosha to hunt on neighbouring farmland. Here, she gave birth to two known cubs: one cub of the same size was found dead at the very same waterhole, 2 weeks prior to Shenzi’s rescue. As farmers cannot tolerate these large predators amongst their livestock, they make use of gin traps and poison; we suspect that Shenzi’s mother was poisoned.
AfriCat North drove approx. 150 km to collect Shenzi from these compassionate farmers. Shenzi spent his first month at AfriCat North in a small enclosure, as de-worming medication as well as a dose of antibiotics, were administered. Each day he would devour a piece of fresh meat; Shenzi grew so fast that after the first 2 weeks we had difficulty holding him whilst administering the medication. From the start, Shenzi kept his distance from humans and would not become any tamer – as AfriCat does not wish to habituate wild lions, after a month Shenzi was released into a 1 hectare enclosure, next to a group of 4 larger cubs who had been rescued from farmland adjacent to the Etosha NP, 6 months prior. In Dec 2008, Shenzi was ready to be introduced to this group of 2 males and 2 females; based on a female’s mothering instinct, even though Shani was only 12 months old, we separated her from her siblings and introduced her to Shenzi.
At first, Shani did not know how to react to this small cub, but after a few hours they had bonded and a month later, the 2nd female Sarana, was introduced into their enclosure. Once all was well, the first male, Shavula joined the group. His introduction to the 'cheeky' cub was more aggressive, but the females instinctively kept Shavula at a safe distance until he had bonded with Shenzi.
The last male Thimba, was introduced a week later and after a few hours, it was clear that the creation of this new pride, was a success. February 2009 saw the annual Veterinary Inspection at the Lion Sanctuary; the 5 young cubs were immobilized and relocated to a 50 hectare camp, where they have adapted well. During 2011, Shenzi has had a tough year, but as lions are wild animals, they recover quickly, becoming stronger and more independent. At the age of three years, Shenzi was becoming more assertive and finding out the hard way, that to test your strength against two 4-year olds (Shavula & Thimba), even if they form part of your pride, leaves scars and puts you in your place. To add to the trials of growing up in the wild, Shenzi lost his 'mother' earlier that year. Shani, the loving adoptive mother to Shenzi, died under anaesthesia during the annual health check 2011. The veterinarian did all he could to try and resuscitate her, but it seems that a possible snake-bite earlier in the year had weakened her heart.
Shani & Sarana were due for their annual contraceptive replacement. The lion contraceptive implant is effective against pregnancy for approx. 12 months. Both lionesses were in perfect health, or so we thought, until Shani did not recover from her anaesthesia. However, even after lengthy laboratory tests, the cause of death was attributed to heart failure. As she was a young lioness (4 yrs old), the chances of her having a weak heart is slim but not impossible. However, during the rainy season of 2010, Shani showed up one day with a swollen face and neck. We could not find any lesions indicating a bite, but we suspect that she could have suffered and survived a puff-adder bite. This snake toxin may have caused damage to her heart. Shenzi was truly sad when Shani did not return to the pride.
As humans, we tend to analyse animal behaviour according to human traits – sadness, fear, loneliness, are all human-felt experiences and when one observes an animal after such an incident, we most often project our feelings onto that animal. However, after Shani’s death, each one of the 4 remaining lions, Shenzi included, returned to the place where she was lying, sniffed about for a while and took time leaving the enclosure – as if they were paying their last respects. Sadly, a few months later, Sarana, Shenzi’s 'aunt', did not arrive for her evening feed and 12 hours later we found her dead. We feared anthrax as cause of death as it was so sudden, but, once again, after lengthy laboratory tests, nothing conclusive could be found and we attribute her death too, to snake bite.
The loss of the two females out of this small pride of lions at the AfriCat Care Centre, has bonded the males Shavula, Thimba and into a close-knit coalition. In the wild, young males often bond and form such coalitions once they have been ousted from their natal prides by the dominant male, who is in most cases, their father.
Jan 2013: The decision to close the AfriCat North’s Lion Sanctuary on Farm Kaross came when the farm was sold at the end of 2012. It was decided that our 4 lions (Kilimanjaro, Shavula, Shenzi & Thimba) and one leopard (Lewa) would join the other 'ambassadors' at the AfriCat Carnivore Care Centre on Okonjima.
Sadly early 2016, Shenzi’s brother Thimba passed away due to cancer and a decision was made to introduce Shenzi to another resident male named Shavula (meaning rain). The two boys got off to a very smooth start, with no fights at all. They are now both able to be seen from a secured hide by our VIP lodge guests and environmental education groups during their daily feeds.