Contraception, reproduction and demography of free-ranging Etosha lions (Panthera leo)



The use of long-acting contraceptives as an effective population control mechanism for free-ranging lions was investigated during a three-year study in the Etosha National Park on five lion prides. Lions were immobilized with ketamine hydrochloride and xylazine hydrochloride. Following immobilization, lionesses were weighed, measured and aged, while serum steroid hormone levels were analysed and vaginal smears were obtained. Physical condition and sexual state were assessed. Individuals were used as control animals or given melengestrol acetate (contraceptive) implants, branded and released; the animals were observed for possible changes in behaviour, birth rate and mortality. Ten treated lionesses were recaptured at irregular intervals to reassess weight and steroid hormone levels, while three lionesses had their implants removed to determine if their fertility would return. The contraceptives prevented pregnancy, were reversible when removed and did not alter lion behaviour significantly, except that sexual behaviour was not recorded in treated lionesses.