Just over a week shy of the anniversary of his initial escape from Karoo National Park, the lion which went on a second walk-about in March this year arrived safely at his new home in Addo Elephant National Park on Friday afternoon 27 May 2016.
The operation to move the lion began in the morning, when he was darted by a SANParks veterinarian in the Karoo boma where he had been kept since his recapture, for his five-hour long road trip to Kuzuko. Once he was safely inside the boma, the vet reversed the effects of the sedative and he was left to drowsily recover and explore his new surroundings. Although the females were not in the immediate vicinity at the time, it wouldn’t take them too long to find one another and start getting acquainted from their individual sides of the fence.
Nicknamed “Sylvester” in the media, the three-and-a-half year old male was successfully relocated from Karoo National Park just outside Beaufort West to Addo Elephant National Park‘s Kuzuko contractual area about two hours outside Port Elizabeth. He’ll be calling a boma within an existing 200ha enclosure (which houses two nearly two-year-old lionesses) home for the next few months. The hope is that over time, the three will bond and form their own pride, led by Sylvester.
The two lionesses have a long and interesting history of their own, having arrived at Kuzuko just over a year ago on 20 May 2015. They became a national news item in December 2014 when park authorities made a desperate plea for visitors to report any sightings of them after their mother died of a suspected snake bite.
They were last seen and photographed by a guest in mid-December of that year – looking thin and withered. Posted on social media, the photographs garnered widespread interest and concern, which saw people travelling to the park specifically to look for them and offering their services in the search. Local and national, print and broadcast media also closely followed developments, appealing to visitors and prospective visitors to report any sightings to the Park’s conservation staff.
It was believed that in the six weeks or so during which they weren’t seen, they were initially cared for by another female, Josie, who later had a litter of her own, whereafter they somehow survived on their own.
Long after park staff had given up hope of finding them alive following aerial searches, ranger patrols, follow-ups on numerous leads and eventually calling off the search, new light arose when a guide alerted rangers that he may have spotted them on 10 January last year. Although sceptical, they still went out and miraculously found the cubs – albeit severely malnourished and lethargic. News of their survival travelled fast, as good news does, and turned what was a bleak start to the new year into one with renewed hope.
The cubs were placed in a boma where they received immediate medical attention. They spent four months here, before their move to Kuzuko, where they’ve been thriving ever since.
In the longer term, the three will be released into the park when the fence between Kuzuko and the neighbouring Darlington section of the park is dropped, which will provide them with 60 000ha over which to roam. Sylvester’s arrival in Addo brings to 19 the number of lions in the park.
Sylvester first escaped from Karoo National Park on 5 June last year, and managed to evade capture for over three weeks. He was then fitted with a combination satellite/VHF collar to find his location should he manage to get out again. This collar then alerted authorities on 28 March that the lion had once again left the park’s boundary, and played a big role in tracking him and returning him back to the park much quicker – three days later on 31 March.
The decision to relocate the lion was one of several which were considered by SANParks, and was the one with the most benefits for the lion, as well as SANParks’ broader predator management programme.