Many people in the animal world get caught in strange situations. A friend of mine, Jacquie, is a veterinary nurse, and works for an organisation that gets called in from time to time to confiscate animals that are being kept illegally.
On one occasion her team was called out to collect a group of carnivores – two caracal and three lion. They were told that all the animals were young, being under seven months of age. So they packed the necessary crates, tranquilizing darts, etc. and headed off to do their thing. (this necessitating being accompanied by representation from both the police and conservation). On arriving at the venue, they quickly sedated the caracal (which turned out to be two males about 4 months old) and placed them in a crate. Then it was on to the enclosure where the lions were being kept. Unfortunately the information they had been given was somewhat inaccurate, in that the lions were all at least a year old, and nearly twice the size that the capture team were expecting. One look at them confirmed that they would never fit in to the crates that had bought along to contain them. So there was nothing else to do – first the lion needed to be darted, and then the two lionesses. This proved to be quite a challenge, as the team had to go into the enclosure housing all three lions in order to dart them. The male was darted whilst his fully conscious and very curious sisters were wandering around wondering what the heck was happening to their brother! As soon as they were all unconscious, the work began.
Struggling under their weight, the team carried the animals one by one to their truck and deposited them all together in the back. It was a bit of a tight fit!! Well it goes without saying that you can’t just drive around with three lions (albeit sedated) lolling about in the back of a truck, so there was nothing for it – my friend Jacquie had to climb in the back with them. She wedged herself into a corner, and tried to look as innocuous as possible.
They were almost back to base, when Jacquie noticed the male flick his ear. She called through to the veterinarian in the front of the truck to say the male would probably need a top-up of the sedative as she didn’t think he would stay fully unconscious for the drive home. By this stage they were driving through the centre of Pretoria along one of the main roads. All Jacquie could do was take off her jacket, which she used as a shield (visual barrier) between herself and the felines.
“Just cross this intersection and then pull over”, Jacquie called out to the driver, “then we can quickly give him another injection and be back home within the hour”. As she spoke, the lion sat up!! On hearing her voice, the veterinarian glanced in the rear view mirror, and to his horror discovered that his vision was completely blocked by the back view of a lion.
There was nothing anyone could do. It was an extremely busy intersection and the robot was red against them. Poor Jacquie had to sit stoically in the back of the truck with two sedated and one very confused and awake lion. She crouched in her corner, holding her (somewhat pathetic) jacket in front of her, hoping that if she kept nice and still, the lion wouldn’t notice her. After what seemed an age, the traffic light changed and they were able to cross the intersection and pull over to the side. The team rushed around to the back of the truck and unlocked it. The door was kept closed, with Jacquie wedged in her corner, so as to reduce any chance of the male getting out.
Passersby were slowing down and gaping at this amazing spectacle: a crazy lady sitting in the back of a truck with three lions, one of which was sitting up and trying to work out where he was. Jacquie says she saw lots of really large white eyes staring at the four of them all squashed up in the back of the truck.
The team managed to distract the lion long enough for him to be given another injection. He was injected through the window from the cabin, and they were on their way again. Nothing else untoward happened during the rest of the journey, and the animals were swiftly transferred in to the cages that had been prepared for them.
What did Jacquie think of all this? “Just another day at work: I do so love the adrenaline rush!!”
I was privileged to be able to visit these three lions whilst they were still in protective custody. Believe me, although they weren’t fully grown, they were all very large. There is no way on this earth that I would have got into the back of a truck with one unconscious lion, let alone three!!
Height: 4 feet (1.2m) (males).
Length: 5-8 feet (1.5-2.4m) (males).
Weight 330-500 lbs (150-227 kg) (males).
In general, female lions are smaller than males.
Lifespan: 10-14 years.
Top speed: 50 mph (81 km/hr), for short distances