Field report by Heather Gurd
On September 14th, we received a flurry of reports from our Lion Watch Guides that a young male lion had an injured leg and was unable to put any weight on it. Concerned, Jeneria and his field team left before dawn the next morning to locate and assess the situation. They found the injured lion and identified him as Lengwe, the 2-year-old son of Nanai from the Koitogor Pride.
Lengwe was unable to walk; being in such bad shape meant he might not be able to survive. Jeneria immediately contacted the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) veterinarian. Fortuitously, Dr. Mutinda was already in Samburu attending to an elephant issue. More good news for Lengwe was that his pride had made a kill. Lions obtain moisture from the stomach contents of their prey; incapable of making it down to the river to drink, Lengwe needed this feed.
The exact cause or extent of the injury was unknown. In order to make a confident diagnosis, Dr. Mutinda decided that an X-ray was required. The first challenge: an X-ray machine would have to be borrowed from a (very generous) animal veterinary practice in Nanyuki, a four-hour drive away. The second challenge: conducting an X-ray on a wild lion would not be quite so straightforward as conducting an X-ray on a family pet.
Getting the vets, the X-ray equipment, and the lion at the same place at the same time proved to be no easy task. We monitored Lengwe from dawn to dusk until the 18th. Despite livestock encroachment issues in the park threatening to complicate matters further, the operation went ahead as planned.
At 3pm, as the team made preparations for the darting, the heavens opened; the first rain to fall here in months. The Samburu people believe this is a blessing.
Although Lengwe was resting inside a dense bush, Dr. Mutinda was able to dart successfully. Once the drugs took effect, the immobilized Lengwe was carried into the open by a team of warriors and rangers. He was doused in water to prevent overheating, and machines monitored his condition before the long-awaited X-ray could be conducted.
It was with mixed reactions I watched the events unfurl; it was hard to see such a majestic animal looking so vulnerable but, at the same time, fascinating to witness the first X-ray operation Ewaso Lions has been involved in, and to know the importance a concrete diagnosis could have on Lengwe’s chances of survival.
After rotating Lengwe to secure the best possible view of the damaged leg, the vets were finally able to confirm that he had sustained a fractured femur. The bad news: a fractured leg is virtually impossible to treat in wild lions. The good news: the joint is still in place and there is still a chance it could heal naturally.
Following the X-ray Lengwe was given IV fluids to rehydrate him. The Ewaso Lions team continued to monitor him into the night and have spent every day since the operation in Samburu National Reserve tracking him and his pride. Encouragingly, soon after, he was spotted drinking water in the river and, although still moving around on three legs, he has been managing to keep up with his the rest of the Koitogor pride.
We will continue to do all we can to ensure that Lengwe has the best possible chance of survival in the wild.
Ewaso Lions would like to thank the following:
• Dr. Mutinda and his KWS veterinary colleagues
• Dr. Imran, North Kenya Veterinary Services.
• Samburu National Reserve and Rangers, especially Mike Lesiil.
• Our Lion Watch Guides, especially Julius Lesoli.
(This article originally appeared on Ewaso Lions. It has been reprinted here with permission.)