7th April 2011 - Born Free Ethiopia Project Director, Stephen Brend, recalls his experience of relocating Dolo, a rescued male lion, to Ensessakotteh:
Following a truck carrying a lion for seven hours was something of a novel experience. It was not the time; I don’t think anyone on our team is a stranger to long journeys. Nor can I pretend it was overly adventurous; the lion slept for most of the journey. There was, however, a constant sense that this cargo was precious and important.
The lion was Dolo, who we were moving from his extended residence in temporary accommodation at the headquarters of Awash National Park, to his permanent home at Ensessakotteh, our project site. Not only that, Dolo would be the first adult male we would receive and his was the very first “range” we had built.
Even finding the truck to carry him was a story. Sara, our finance manager, and I were driving back from the site when we saw a flat-bed with a crane. Given the weight of a lion (approximately 170 kg) and the weight of his crate (180 kg) having a crane made sense. Unfortunately the truck was entering a roundabout as we were about to exit. I made a hurried 360 degree turn and we were after him. As soon as the traffic stopped Sara ran out to speak to the driver. Truck drivers being ‘of a type’ anywhere in the world, I am sure he was delighted when this attractive young lady shouted up at him that she wanted to talk. He pulled over pronto! His pleasure, however, soon turned to amazement when she explained we wanted to contract him to carry a lion half way across the country. Having got the point across that the lion would be in a box – yes, a very strong box – he agreed.
So 5.30 in the morning on 23 March found us in Awash National Park, shuffling about, getting our gear ready. Rea Tschopp, our consultant vet, who was leading the operation prepared her darts, while the rest of us busied ourselves with the 101 other things that needed doing. Virginia McKenna, Born Free Foundation’s founder was there, as were Alison Hood and Andrina Murrell my bosses from the UK, John Knight our senior veterinary consultant, George Logan the photographer, Park Staff, the truck drivers and quite a few other people.
If it sounds like there was a cast of thousands, there was only one star, Dolo. He ignored the first tranquilising dart, which hit him at around 0630. He became sleepy with the second and finally went down some 30 minutes later; then came the ceremonial moment of unlocking his cage. To be honest, that moment passed me by as I knew that once the door was opened we were going inside. I politely offered to hold the door for John but he declined and merely offered the sarcastic consolation of “don’t worry I’ll be right behind you”.
Dolo, thankfully was out for the count and so the vets could do their checks. All was good, except for Dolo’s eyes. For whatever reason, his pupils are overly distended and his vision consequently limited. That and poor muscle tone appeared to be his only problems, When Rea checked his teeth and exposed his massive canines, it occurred to me that elephants should not claim sole right to having tusks!
Vet checks out of the way, it was time to get him into his crate. We stretchered him out, pushed the stretcher through the crate, put it down, rolled him off, got the stretcher out and then we could close the back door. Finding myself inside a box with a lion, with the only way out being passed the toothy bit, caused yet another spike in my adrenaline levels. Why was I in the box you may well ask? The answer, someone had to keep his tail inside. An interesting moment, it suddenly brought home why so many of my friends with kids have hissed at me “don’t wake the baby!” I can now completely relate to that sentiment.
Once I was out, the front doors could be dropped and bolted in position. The crate was then winched onto the truck and we were off. The first thirty minutes were spent bumping to the Park entrance. One of the bolts popped off. Good start, I thought wishing it had been someone other than me who had tightened them up. We managed to clamp the door shut and started off again, down the highway. Alison, feigning nonchalance, promptly feel asleep.
Through town and village, over hills, around crater lakes and finally into Addis Ababa we followed that truck, stopping every thirty minutes or so to check on Dolo. All was going well. The truck driver bullied his way through the city traffic, headed west and we were onto the final straight. All we had lost were Virginia and her guests (that woke Alison up!).
We got to the site, the truck reversed up to Dolo’s shelter, where he would spend his first night, the crane winched the crate down, and we hauled it inside – still no dramas. I was actually starting to feel relieved when John motioned me over: “a few small points….”
OK, I can cap the exposed bolts, padlock the slides, trim back that bit of wire but, honestly John, there is nothing, absolutely nothing, I can do about the fact that the crate is 1.4m high, when it is open the door sticks the same height above it (2.8 m) but the building’s roof is just 2.5m. It looked tall enough when we were building it….”
John, thankfully, adopted his most “Jim’ll fix it” attitude and worked out that if we pushed the crate against the doorway between the rooms in the shelter, we could get Dolo out (even though the door could not open fully) as we would be able to hold it at maximum height. That would not have been possible if we had used a pulley to open the door in the middle of the room as I had planned.
So finally everything was ready. We had arrived safely, John and Alison had given Bereket’s construction the double thumbs up, Virginia had arrived, Rea was on top of things and the door went up.
Now if only Dolo had come bounding out, the ending would have been perfect. The reality was that he did not want to leave his box and roared his displeasure. That was unexpected, deafening, and more than a little bit frightening.
So now what do you do? Remember it is Dolo who will do things at his own sedate pace. And so it was that after an extended pause he sauntered out into his new home.
Mission accomplished – lion number 1 rescued.
Photos © George Logan - with thanks from Born Free Foundation