The reintroduction of lions marked a significant milestone in the rehabilitation of the 70, 000 hectare reserve. Historically lions were considered to be common in the Lower Shire Valley but by the early 1960s scouts in Majete were recording only one lion every 100 patrol days. Over the years poaching took its toll and there were no reports of lions in the region since the 1980s.
The non-profit organisation African Parks has been systematically resurrecting Majete since assuming management of the park in 2003. Over the twelve years the park has been fenced, infrastructure developed and 2,559 animals from 14 different species have been reintroduced. The safety that the perimeter fence and law enforcement programmes provides and the abundance of prey has now created an environment within which lions can once again thrive.
In August 2012 two male and two female lions provided by the North West Parks and Tourism Board in South Africa were introduced to Majete. There are no suitable lion populations available in Malawi so they have to be sourced from South Africa. Healthy animals at the beginning of their reproductive lives were selected from Pilanesberg National Park and Madikwe Game Reserve for the operation. The intricate relocation process involved weeks of quarantine on both sides of the border and was a costly operation with holding facilities having to be erected and flights chartered to transport the predators to their new home.
One of these four lions was Shire a two year old female who originated from Madikwe in South Africa. She was flown and sedated for approximately eight hours and then transported from Nchalo airstrip to Majete.
This was the first time in Africa lions have been moved by plane from one country to another and such relocation with wild animals being sedated for long periods of time carries some risks. Regrettably, one of the females died in flight from hypoxia and hypertension. The fact that the other three lions survived the journey is a triumph. Shire and the two males (Sapitwa and Chimwala) spent one month in a purpose built boma within Majete for quarantine purposes and for the three individual lions to bond into a pride.
Three days before the release Majete staff stopped feeding the lions in preparation for being darted and moved to the area where they would be released. However, Shire had other plans and being a clever opportunist, noticed a baboon had jumped into the boma and was foraging beneath a tree. She quietly crouched down and began stalking the baboon which had no chance when she brought it down and killed it. Breakfast was served! Three days later she was collared with a satellite collar so staff could monitor her movements and released into the reserve which was the start of a life of freedom in her new home.
In May 2013, she separated herself from the two males and moved into a rocky outcrop and was not seen for a few months. Majete scouts went out on countless occasions to try and locate her as it was presumed she had given birth to one cub which had been seen. However, in an attempt to verify the birth of the cubs scouts were sent to the area but Shire refused to let them get close and she either hid or charged them. She was not ready for the world to witness her secret. Shire was a first time mother and even without the normal female pride members to help her, four months later she emerged with two healthy cubs, one female and one male bringing the total number of lions at Majete to five. It has not yet certain which of the two adult male lions is the father but it is suspected to be Chimwala.
During the first few months of their lives Shire and the cubs remain
ed mostly apart from the males and she was elusive and protective over her cubs. It was not until later that she began moving further afield with them and the cubs were regularly spotted with Shire by Majete staff and guests on the main tourist roads and the two male adult lions, Sapitwa and Chimwala.
As the rainy season approached they kept to the main roads increasing the chances of being seen by staff and guests, as lions are
not keen on long grass. There was a good sighting at the Mvuu spot area where they killed a male kudu and later guides found a tail of a zebra near Kapachira Falls which is thought to have been removed during an attempt by the lions to bring it down. As the cubs grew into fully developed adults, Shire continued to successfully hone their hunting skills. This was witnessed then they worked together to kill a sable. The two cubs drove the sable towards Shire who was lying in wait at the front and she leapt in the air and brought down the young sable.
Since then she has been moving around the reserve teaching them to hunt and fend for themselves. The cubs are now two years old and are formidable hunters in their own right and Shire has done an amazing job of rearing them in a restrictive isolated environment. Early this year she has shown suspected signs of pregnancy and the Majete team are monitoring the situation and hoping for a new litter.
The reintroduction of lions to the Majete system has not only restored the Reserve to a naturally functioning ecosystem and rendered Majete a BIG 5 destination but will also boost Malawi’s tourism industry. With exciting viewing opportunities to view nature at its best and stay at the Mkulumadzi Lodge (Robin Pope Safaris) or Thawale Lodge, Majete’s future looks bright.