Lions in captivity breed like rabbits.
Wildlife tourists, true to form, want to see lions - the cubs are cute and cuddly, and the adults are huge, magnificent creatures, awesome to behold.
Uncontrolled breeding presents a serious problem - this little cutie-pie is going to grow up and would one day like to start a family of his own. My friend Paul Loubser, owner of the Buffelsfontein Game and Nature Reserve on the Cape West Coast does not condone the concept of canned hunting. He would only sell cubs to individuals and reserves where the cubs are guaranteed to live full, dignified lives without the possibility of being hunted.
This prerequisite, however, narrows down the market considerably. Paul tries to keep conditions as natural as possible for his lions, and is therefore reluctant to keep males and females in separate camps. Nature being nature, this co-habitation would invariably result in the population getting out of hand.
Initially the females were put on implanted birth control pills, but this required frequent darting of the animals, and somehow there were still a couple of surprise litters now and again. Sterilising the animals in the usual way invariably results in hormonal and a variety of behavioural as well as physical changes.
So, Quo Vadis? Something had to be done to limit the population increase.
Balzac, the alpha male, did not take kindly to the idea of being castrated - yes, he was growing rather fed-up with a new batch of youngsters pestering him every now and again, but the thought of his mighty roar changing to a timid squeak and losing his manly appeal did not sit well with him.
In fact, it seemed to bring him close to tears.
But then we gave him the good news which immediately lifted his spirit. Although it would still entail a visit by the vet and some minute surgery, nothing would change - he would still remain the formidable Balzac with everything intact, including his virility. The tiny operation known as a vasectomy entails the removal of a short piece of the vas deferens, or spermatic cord. This is a thin tube transporting sperm from the testes to the rest of the plumbing, where it is mixed with various other fluids to produce the ejaculate. Only difference is there are no sperm in the semen, something you can only spot with a microscope. So the happy family life continues normally, the only difference being that the female does not fall pregnant.
This elegant solution to the dilemma appealed to Balzac, although he was still not all that enthusiastic about the vet.
Due to the general anaesthetic he was spared the indignity of "the shave"...
prelude to "the knife".
From "the first cut"....
...to the "final cut".
Within hours Balzac and his buddy were staggering about with their hang-overs, but converted to full sport(s) models without the usual loss of serious body parts. The big boy can even retain his name with pride.
This is not a permanent solution to the problem, but rather a reprieve. In the most recent litter there is (fortunately) only a single male cub, but it will take him a couple of years to reach sexual maturity.