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Daddy’s pride: A story to make your heart soar

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As any dad knows, it’s not easy to do the lion’s share of the childcare when you don’t have any help from Mum.

There’s the job of disciplining unruly tots, keeping them looking clean and teaching them the skills they need in life. But when African lion Wallace lost his mate Rachel suddenly from a stroke when their only cub, Khari, was just seven months old, he took over the parenting duties.

Adult male lions are not known for their tolerance of younger members of their pride — or, for that matter, getting their paws dirty when it comes to childcare.

Yet Wallace amazed his keepers at Blackpool Zoo by stepping into the breach — and showing incredible devotion and patience looking after his cub. On the eve of Father’s Day, we reveal the father-son bond that will touch every heart.

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Khari the lion was taken under the wing of his father, Wallace, after his mother Rachel died just before Christmas 

Khari the lion was taken under the wing of his father, Wallace, after his mother Rachel died just before Christmas 

Khari the lion was taken under the wing of his father, Wallace, after his mother Rachel died just before Christmas 

Get ready for playtime . . .

male lions are usually not exactly hands-on dads. They leave all the hard work to the womenfolk: both childcare and hunting. 

That said, they do actually stick around, which is more than can be said for most male cats, who clear off once the mating is over.

Cubs are born blind and unable to walk for the first few weeks. 

And while lionesses are the main teachers, allowing growing cubs to pounce and chase their tails in preparation for real life, lion dads will also allow their offspring to jump on them and stalk them.

However, they tend to have a much shorter fuse than the mums — often swatting mischievous youngsters away with their giant paws, or snarling at them when their patience wears thin.

Cub scout: Young Khari at his home in Blackpool Zoo. Khari, whose name means ‘like a king’ in Swahili — was one of just two cubs born to the couple

Cub scout: Young Khari at his home in Blackpool Zoo. Khari, whose name means ‘like a king’ in Swahili — was one of just two cubs born to the couple

Cub scout: Young Khari at his home in Blackpool Zoo. Khari, whose name means ‘like a king’ in Swahili — was one of just two cubs born to the couple

Dads show their true colours, however, when their cubs are under attack from hyenas or rival male lions. They will fight to the death to defend them.

Tragedy strikes at Christmas

Rachel and Wallace, both bred in captivity in the UK, had been together for nine years.

Khari, whose name means ‘like a king’ in Swahili — was one of just two cubs born to the couple. His twin, with birth defects, lived only a few days. This meant that Rachel, who, at 14, was old for a first-time mother, was devoted to her only baby and spent all her time grooming and playing with him.

But then on the morning of Christmas Eve in 2015, when Khari was just seven months old, her keepers found the lioness lying on her side. Adam Kenyon, head of mammals at the zoo, told the Mail: ‘We knew something was wrong because usually Rachel would be up and about by that time, grooming Khari or playing with him.

Keep close, son:  Mother Rachel takes care of her youngster. On the morning of Christmas Eve in 2015, keepers at the zoo found the lioness lying on her side. She had died from a massive stroke

Keep close, son:  Mother Rachel takes care of her youngster. On the morning of Christmas Eve in 2015, keepers at the zoo found the lioness lying on her side. She had died from a massive stroke

Keep close, son:  Mother Rachel takes care of her youngster. On the morning of Christmas Eve in 2015, keepers at the zoo found the lioness lying on her side. She had died from a massive stroke

‘She did not get up as usual when we called her name. Khari was very confused and was sitting in the corner.’ Heartbreakingly, by the time the vets arrived, she had died of a massive stroke.

Wallace steps into the breach

As the only lioness at the zoo, it was feared that Rachel’s loss would leave a huge void in her cub’s life. But it was then that Wallace amazed the keepers by stepping up into her role.

Adam says: ‘Wallace had already sired three cubs with other lionesses, so he knew the drill when we put him together with Khari when he was old enough.

‘When he set eyes on him, Khari looked up at his dad as if to say: “Ooh, he’s got a such a big mane.” Wallace, who has always been pretty laid-back, gave him a sniff and waltzed off.’

At first, Adam says Wallace’s mood changed when Rachel died. ‘He had to get used to the idea she was gone. His subdued body language, and the fact he wanted to be on his own, seemed to indicate he knew something was wrong.’

But after a few days, he rallied, and started to take an active interest in his cub. ‘Wallace started grooming and licking Khari more — a job Rachel would have done. He responded when Khari wanted to rub heads.

Cheeky: Khari tries to get his father Wallace's attention. The doting father's laid-back personality makes him 'great dad material', said head of keepers Adam

Cheeky: Khari tries to get his father Wallace's attention. The doting father's laid-back personality makes him 'great dad material', said head of keepers Adam

Cheeky: Khari tries to get his father Wallace’s attention. The doting father’s laid-back personality makes him ‘great dad material’, said head of keepers Adam

‘Khari used to sleep snuggled up next to Rachel, but right away he was snuggling up next to his dad instead. It was a huge relief to see Wallace taking over the parenting.

‘We could have done all the feeding and caring for Khari, but you really need a lion to teach a cub how to be a lion.’

Building the father and son bond

As the months have gone by, the bond between father and son has only got deeper. Adam says: ‘From the start, Khari followed Wallace everywhere, like his shadow. And, even now, wherever Wallace goes, Khari is right behind him. They are never more than a few feet away from each other.’

Wallace’s laid-back personality makes him ‘great dad material’ says Adam. ‘He’s very relaxed — authoritative when he needs to be, but not too aggressive. His tolerance levels are also a lot higher than you’d normally expect from older male lions. Khari has to push him a long way, by jumping on him and knocking him over, before he ticks him off with a swipe.’

However, if there’s one place that Wallace does like to show he’s boss, it’s feeding time. Adult male lions need a huge amount of food — around 15lb of meat on average day — the same as about 30 normal-size steaks.

Tufty Tyke: Khari begins to grow a mane - just like his dad. As the months went by the bond between father and son only grew deeper

Tufty Tyke: Khari begins to grow a mane - just like his dad. As the months went by the bond between father and son only grew deeper

Tufty Tyke: Khari begins to grow a mane – just like his dad. As the months went by the bond between father and son only grew deeper

In the pride, the males always eat first — even though the females do all the hunting of prey such as antelope, zebras and wildebeest. And it’s a privilege that Wallace is not keen to give up, says Adam.

‘If Khari took a bigger piece of meat than his dad, Wallace would make a bee-line for him and take it off him. But Wallace will let him have his leftovers.’

Khari the cub finds his roar

Lions’ roars are used to keep rival lions from wandering into their territory.

Lions are able to roar so loudly because they have a strong, but wobbly, bone in their voice boxes, which vibrates forcefully.

This makes the sound an ear-splitting 114 decibels, louder than a motorcycle engine, and it can be heard up to five miles away.

Adam says: ‘As the dominant male, Wallace does most of the roaring.’ But now Khari is also finding his voice. ‘He was only a few weeks old when he started making little hissing noises and that developed into a sort of miaow.

‘Now Khari makes much bigger noises, as if his voice has broken. At first, he looked surprised at the big sounds that came out, as if he was thinking: “Hang on a minute. Where did that come from?”’

Be a cool cat — with lion lessons

Striking a pose: Khari lines up with his handsome father. 'Now Khari makes much bigger noises, as if his voice has broken,' Adam added

Striking a pose: Khari lines up with his handsome father. 'Now Khari makes much bigger noises, as if his voice has broken,' Adam added

Striking a pose: Khari lines up with his handsome father. ‘Now Khari makes much bigger noises, as if his voice has broken,’ Adam added

When he was born on May 2015, Khari weighed just over 5lb.

Now he has turned two, and has almost caught up with his dad, who weighs about 180lb.

But Wallace still has a lot to teach his boy. Lions are social animals and tend to go to the toilet, and even yawn, in unison.

Careful breeding is essential because lions are endangered in the wild in Africa due to the expansion of farmlands into their territories. Now it’s said there are only between 20,000 and 30,000 left.

Adam says: ‘For now, Wallace is teaching Khari how to be a good dad so he can one day be as good with his own family.’

Until that day comes, father and son are happy in each other’s company. Adam says: ‘They are never far apart.

‘One of the favourite sights at the zoo is to see Khari and Wallace sitting next to each other on the high rock in their enclosure, in exactly the same pose. It’s clear Khari really looks up to his dad. Wallace is his hero.’

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