We have a pride of eight lions at Blair Drummond Safari Park and they are all related to each other. Our two adult females, Karis and Libby, are sisters, and they both have offspring fathered by Zulu. Karis had a litter of four cubs in 2016, two boys, and two girls – Murray, Reid, Isla and Thistle. Karis’ sister Libby then gave birth to two female cubs in 2019 – Hope and Faith.
A family affair
This form of ‘matrilineal society’ is very natural for lions. In the wild, a pride of related females will work together to hunt and care for their cubs. They are usually joined by one alpha male, who is very protective over his harem. Male offspring will usually leave their mother around two years old, before they reach sexual maturity.
Why the lion lost his mane
Male lions are known for their impressive manes, but you might notice that some of our lions are losing their hair! This is nothing to worry about. Our boys are still in the family pride and, because of this, we’ve had to take precautions to ensure that they don’t breed with their female relatives. The breeding of endangered animals is always carefully managed to ensure a healthy gene pool.
Our vets have administered a short-term contraceptive implant to the male lions. This is temporary and the lions are perfectly healthy, but the suppression of the male sex hormone causes their mane to fall out.
Eventually Murray and Reid will move to a new home within a suitable collection as part of future breeding programmes. However, rehoming is a complex process and, in the meantime, they’ll remain on contraceptives to prevent in-breeding.
Sadly, Zulu died of leukaemia in March 2021. This means that our pride currently doesn’t have an alpha male, but this doesn’t cause any issues to the wellbeing of our lions. They all socialise well together and if, at any time, a new male is introduced to the pride, this will be carefully considered and done with great care.