Karoo lion successfully recaptured

JUNE 30, 2015

Following an extended three week operation in mountainous terrain and through a number of river valleys, a three-year old male lion that escaped from the Karoo National Park outside Beaufort West has been successfully recaptured.

It is suspected that the young male might have been chased away by older lions and escaped from the Park on Friday, 5 June 2015 through a place in the fence that had been damaged following heavy rain.

In 2010 lions were released into the Karoo National Park near Beaufort West for the first time after an absence of almost 170 years from the area.

The introduction of lion into the Park was done in respect of the conservation objective of reintroducing species that occurred historically in the area, although this has also enhanced tourism to the Park.

The Karoo National Park, which has always been a popular stop over on the N2 for the journey between Gauteng and Cape Town, is also increasingly a sought after tourist destination in its own right.  

According to historical records, the last wild lion was shot at the nearby settlement of Leeu-Gamka in 1842.

Historical evidence of lion occurrence in the area includes farm and river names based on the word “leeu” or lion, and the fact that the two main rivers draining the central Karoo mountains, the Leeu Rivier and Gamka River, derive from the Afrikaans and San words for lion respectively.

Two male lions, two lionesses and four cubs were released from the boma into the Karoo National Park on 11 November 2010, becoming the first wild, free-ranging lions in the Great Karoo since 1842.

According to Nico van der Walt, Park Manager at Karoo National Park,  the lion was eventually captured late yesterday (Monday, 29 June 2015) after the trackers found spoor in an area approximately 20 kilometers from the Karoo National Park.

“It appears the young lad had covered over 300 kilometers during his journey, and a number of sheep and a kudu were reported to have been killed by the lion since its escape.”

“The lion had been located by spotters on Monday above steep cliffs in the Nuweveld Mountains, at 5 800 ft above sea level. It was darted by a SANParks vet from a helicopter and brought to safety under extremely difficult conditions. It had to be loaded into a sling underneath the chopper while lying immobilised on the mountain side. This was the most dangerous part of the operation as the helicopter blades were not more than two meters from the mountain edge with the lion lying three metres from a high cliff.”  

Van der Walt said the lion has now been released into a boma and has been fitted with a tracking collar. “We are happy to report that it is in good health and it would be put under observation for the time being.”

SANParks, Chief Executive Officer, Fundisile Mketeni congratulated the team for their professionalism in discharging their duties.

“This has not been an easy task to perform by any measure – we therefore thank all stakeholders from the neighboring communities and all those that assisted in this operation, including a tracking team that came from as far afield as Botswana to assist in bringing the lion back home.”

Assistance in tracking the lion was provided by a range of organisations including Cape Nature, South African Police Services, Northern Cape Conservation, the farming community, Berg Kwagga Trackers, and Shimane Safaris from Botswana.

Mketeni concluded “It has been a momentous task to track this lion over a period of three weeks under extremely difficult conditions through the mountains and valleys of the Great Karoo, and to effect the safe capture and return of the lion to the Karoo National Park. The efforts of SANParks staff, and all those who assisted, have really lifted conservation to another level and for that we are extremely grateful.”