On Thursday 17 July, I drove with two helpers to Awash National Park.
One of the helpers was Bereket, the newly appointed Born Free construction supervisor, and the other was Rea Tschopp, a veterinarian who had helped Born Free remove the chain from the Dolo lion (see my earlier blog here).
We set off at 6am for the 4 ½ hour journey east from Addis. First, through the conjested Debre Zeit, then on through Nazret and into the hills. Recent rain has transformed the countryside. Dusty brown turned into lush green. Incredible to think there is such a drought to the west and east. Everywhere farmers were ploughing with their ancient wooden ploughshares pulled by oxen. The journey from Addis took. As we approached Awash we had to wait for some Afar pastoralists and their hundreds of camels to cross the road.
Our mission was to repair and strengthen the lion enclosure at the Awash headquarters, where the Dolo lion is temporarily being kept until the new Born Free Wildlife Rescue and Education Centre is built. Wild lions in the park had stretched and weakened the mesh. Sadly, Dolo can never be released back into the wild, so it is important his enclosure is secure.
At the Park headquarters, I asked that the Park staff could stay out of sight, and especially Kole the Dolo lion carer, because Dolo associates him with food and gets very excited whenever he is around.
It’s always important when working with wild animals to carefully plan the procedure in advance. Quiet at all times. No sudden movements. Always work together on the same side of the enclosure so lion never feels ‘surrounded’. First, clear the thorn bush that had been put around the enclosure to prevent wild lions from getting too close. Second, slowly bring the 25 metre roll of mesh to the side of the enclosure and see how lion reacts. Third, leave the roll of mesh close to the enclosure on the sunniest side of cage and back off for five minutes so the lion can come up and check it out and we can monitor how agitated the lion is.
If Dolo became agitated Rea would need to blow dart the cat with tranquillizer so that we could complete the repair work safely and without the lion becoming stressed. Rea hoped the tranquillizer would not be necessary as the lion had spent all its life with humans close by.
Bereket and I cleared the thorn bushes that surrounded the site while Dolo lay watching us. When we carried the mesh close to the enclosure Dolo came over to check it out, then walked to the shadiest side of enclosure and lay down with his head facing away from us.
Since Dolo was obviously not bothered at all by our presence, the tranquillizer was thankfully not necessary. Rea sat on lion watch duty to warn us if Dolo started to come up to where we were working, since we had to have fingers and hands right against the wire as we stitched the new mesh in place.
Bereket and I lifted the 2 metre wide roll till it was vertical and gently lent it against the existing mesh wall. Dolo waved a fly from his face and yawned. We gently started to unroll the mesh around the side of the enclosure stitching the mesh to the uprights and the existing mesh at frequent intervals. Dolo fell into a deep sleep.
Rea cut the stitching wire into lengths and Bereket and I continued to unravel the mesh roll around the enclosure stitching as we went. The entire repair job took two hours and Dolo slept for 1 ¾ hours!
We could not believe how laid back the cat was.
Needless to say, when the goat carcass was brought out, Dolo was wide awake…
We loaded up our tools and I drove the 5 hour drive back trying to keep smiling as bus after bus came around blind corners overtaking overladen lorries… …Ethiopian driving really is something!
If anyone wants to help pay for the care of this lion, he costs £10 (US$20) per day to keep.
And, if you’d like to help Born Free raise funds for the new Centre please donate here at Wildlife Direct or via www.bornfree.org.uk.
More news in a few days,