At LIONSROCK Big Cat Sanctuary in the Eastern Free State, a lion takes the first place in being the biggest cat of the three big cat species represented at the Sanctuary.
Individual wild tigers are often bigger than lions, weighing up to 262 kilograms compared to lion males of which the average weight is 190 kilograms.
This is because a tiger has a higher percentage of muscle mass, around 72.6%, compared to a lion, which has 58.8%. In addition, a tiger has only 7.7% body fat, while lions have almost double, 13.7%.
But in terms of weight, who is the number one big cat at LIONSROCK where more than 70 lions, 23 tigers and three leopards reside?
The top prize goes to male lion Lubumbashi who weighs in at 242 kilograms despite having started his life in disadvantaged circumstances.
Lubumbashi was born on 13th July 2009 in the Lubumbashi Zoo in the Democratic Republic of Congo. He arrived with his two female siblings at LIONSROCK on the 31st of March 2010. For many years, the Lubumbashi Zoo was neglected, and the animals were inadequately fed and cared for in dilapidated cages before they reach LIONSROCK.
A group of ladies decided to create a non-profit organisation called Friends of the Lubumbashi Zoo in May 2007. They collected funds on the zoo’s behalf and took over its day-to-day running, to ensure the inhabitants of the zoo were provided with the very basics such as food, fresh water, and clean enclosures.
However, the zoo did not have sufficient space or money to accommodate another three lions, when Lubumbashi and his siblings were born. The zoo management would have been forced to move them to another state zoo where conditions were no better. The organisation contacted LIONSROCK, and the threesome was relocated to their forever home in the Free State. Over the past twelve years, Lubumbashi has grown to be part of the legends of LIONSROCK and now reigns supreme as the biggest big cat.
Size does however not always matter when it comes to being a big cat legend. Just as popular and well-known is LIONSROCK’s smallest big cat, leopard Bakari while the cheetah Sasha weighed in at 38 kilograms at his last vet check. Cheetahs, however, are not part of the five big cat species: lions, tigers, leopards, jaguars, and snow leopards.
Leopards can weigh anything from 20 to 90 kilograms while cheetahs weigh in a range of 21 to 72 kilograms.
Among tigers at LIONSROCK, the four Starlight Brothers are some of the biggest tigers, but Shir Kahn seems to be the biggest. They all weigh in at more than 200 kilograms
Which bring us to how do you weigh a big cat and especially those at sanctuaries?
Watching such an exercise recently, I was amazed at how the process works and the effortless expertise that the staff at LIONSROCK use to complete this important task.
If you ever tried weighing your own pet cat or dog, you would know it can be a struggle. Animal care workers and vets around the world can certainly empathise with you, especially since they often must weigh animals that are much bigger than your pets. This, however, has prompted them to produce good procedures and equipment to make their jobs a little easier.
At LIONSROCK a weight check is routinely done during immobilisation. The big cats are only weighed after being darted with immobilisation drugs. A digital scale with the limit of 300 kilograms is used to weigh in the animal clinic on the premises. The clinic is situated close to the special care units, where the elderly and special care need animals are kept.
A customised low-profile platform is fitted onto the industrial format scale, the size of a table, to enable the big cats, after being immobilised in their enclosures, to be weighed while lying down on their sides. The stretcher on which the cat is carried from the crate they were transported in, is folded open on the scale. It usually takes five to six animal caretakers to carry a big cat with the stretcher.
During my visit it was the turn of one of the train tigers to undergo a procedure. Mafalda was part of a group of four tigers who lived in a train carriage for fifteen years in Argentina and was relocated by FOUR PAWS to South Africa, in March 2022. She was due for a sterilisation a few weeks after their arrival and was weighed prior to the procedure.
We started out at the enclosure where she was darted with the immobilisation dart or drugs by consulting veterinarian, Dr Peter Caldwell, once she was fully asleep, the animal caretakers carried her on a stretcher to the pick-up truck and she was transported by truck to the LIONSROCK clinic.
After her arrival, Mafalda was checked thoroughly by Dr Caldwell and LIONSROCK vet Christine Steyrer including her weight, paws, claws, and teeth, before moving her into the theatre.
Animal caretakers carefully carried her on the stretcher onto the scale. The tiger came in at a weight of only 94 kilograms. The animal’s weight was recorded together with all the other biometrics and results of the examination. This is important for the current health status and for future comparisons of the individual.
Shortly after the procedure was finished, Mafalda received the antagonistic drug to wake her up and was safely brought back into her enclosure, which she shares with Gustavo.
The LIONSROCK weigh-in once again successfully done and dusted with lion Lubumbashi still topping the weigh-in charts of the big cat legends at LIONSROCK.