On Friday 9th September, three male lions arrived at their new home in the uMkhuze section of the iSimangaliso Wetland Park. The lions, from the Tswalu Kalahari Reserve, are genetically distinct from the pride of 13 lions presently residing in iSimangaliso, all of which are from the same blood line. The lions will remain in the bomas for a several weeks and then be released into the wild during October to acquaint themselves with the existing pride.
This introduction is part of the plan to bring lions back to iSimangaliso after 44 years of absence. Forty-seven years ago the last lion was shot by conservation for going “rogue” from what was then an unfenced park. The first introductions took place in December 2013 and 2014 respectively.
The first family of four lions – translocated from Tembe Elephant Park – were released in December 2013 and comprised an adult female and three sub-adult offspring. Their arrival catapulted iSimangaliso to ‘Big 7’ status. This was followed by the coalition of two males (brothers) and three females during the course of 2014.
In order to slow down the breeding rate of the lions, the females underwent partial hysterectomies. This requires the removal of one horn of the uterus. Lions breed prolifically and this action should halve the number of litters, obviating the need for translocations to other parks in the short-term. Since December 2013, two sets of cubs swelled the ranks and the total number of lions at present is 13.
“This historic introduction brings iSimangaliso closer to achieving its conservation vision: the full restoration of eco-systems functioning, and the re-establishment of the migratory patterns of historically occurring animal populations – from the top of the Lebombo mountains to the sea – as they occurred in the times of Shaka and before fencing fragmented the landscape and constrained animal movements. It is a reversal of the historic decimation of game for apartheid military bases, commercial plantations and other agriculture,” says iSimangaliso CEO, Andrew Zaloumis.
Zaloumis explains that the reintroduction of lions back into uMkhuze is the result of 15 years of hard work by iSimangaliso staff. It follows the settling of land claims, the removal of thousands of hectares of commercial eucalyptus and pine plantations and the construction of over 350km of “Big 5” fencing.
Much of this work has been undertaken by community SMMEs, creating significant employment in an area marked by unemployment and poverty. Fencing was done by agreement with communities, involving negotiations with seven traditional council chiefs and dozens of isigodi’s (wards).
“In addition to the ecological benefits, the introduction of lion has boosted tourism arrivals to the uMkhuze section of iSimangaliso. The pride of lion are regularly seen along with the two packs of painted dogs,” adds Zaloumis.
All adult lions are fitted with satellite collars to monitor their movements for biological and safety reasons. They are tracked daily by Park staff supported by Wildlife Act volunteers with the information feeding into Park management.
A translocation is the culmination of the efforts of numerous parties and iSimangaliso expresses its sincere thanks to the combined contributions of all who continue to assist conservation.
“In particular,” says Zaloumis, “we acknowledge the donation of the lions by Tswalu Kalahari Reserve, the Bateleur Society for aircraft and flights and Mr and Mrs Van Langelaars for their donation to fuel costs and the many participants in iSimangaliso’s eco-series events whose contribution to the Rare and Endangered Species Fund has covered the cost of immobilising drugs and collars. Thank you also to the conservation staff of Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife and Wildlife ACT who are also a significant part of the success of the project.”
iSimangaliso can now proclaim itself as the most diverse park in Africa – all key terrestrial animals have been introduced including lion, cheetah, wild dog, rhino, tsessebe and oribi. Marine life includes protected whale and sharks populations, coelacanths, turtles as well as a myriad of species on our coral reefs.
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The Deputy Minister of Environmental Affairs, Ms Barbara Thomson, has paid tribute to local communities and the youth for their commitment to combating rhino poaching.
Deputy Minister Thomson said the youth, as the moral, economic, political and thought leaders of tomorrow are key in the battle that is being fought.
“They are the future conservation leaders and are the generation that will influence the continued existence of legal and illegal wildlife markets, thus contributing to a decline in the consumption, and demand, for rhino horn,” she said.
“We rely on communities, nationally and internationally, to support us in neutralising the threat posed by organised transnational criminal syndicates involved in the illegal wildlife trade. It is only through working with communities that sustainable solutions to the problem can be found,” said the Deputy Minister.
The Deputy Minister led the World Rhino Day 2015 celebrations, hosted by the Department of Environmental Affairs in partnership with the iSimangaliso Wetland Park at St Lucia in northern KwaZulu-Natal today, 22 September 2015.
World Rhino Day – 22 September – was launched by the World Wildlife Fund-South Africa in 2010 to celebrate the five different species of Rhino. The Day has since grown to become a global event to draw attention to the impact of poaching on the continued survival of the species.
South Africa has a proud conservation record, having brought the rhino back from near extinction in the 1960s to a healthy estimated 20 000 black and white rhino by the end of 2013. The country has been described as the only remaining hope for the world in terms of rhino conservation.
The World Rhino Day event at iSimangaliso included the handing out much-needed equipment to some of the 185 entrepreneurs supported through the World Heritage Site’s Rural Enterprise Programme. So far, equipment to the value of R 5.9 million has been awarded to participating enterprises. iSimangaliso is also investing in skills for the future – 67 students are being supported to study at University in the fields of conservation and tourism to develop skills.
Year-on-year the land care and infrastructure development programmes, funded through the Department of Environmental Affairs, have employed community-based contractors creating over 50 000 temporary jobs in the last 10 years. Training programmes in tourism, hospitality and tour-guiding have included local people in the growth.
“These new partners benefit directly from conservation and in this way the Park’s outstanding heritage values have become tangible,” said the Deputy Minister ahead of World Heritage Day to be marked on Thursday, 24 September 2015.
The Deputy Minister also signed the World Youth Wildlife Declaration through which youth have demanded that their voices be heard stating that they do not want to be the generation to tell their grandchildren that they did nothing about rhino poaching or wildlife crime.
“Public awareness is pertinent in achieving the department’s priorities aimed at building a culture of environmental awareness and instilling a sense of responsible citizenship using social marketing tactics,” said the Deputy Minister.
The Department of Environmental Affair, has been leading the implementation of the Integrated Strategic Management of Rhinoceros in South Africa, which was approved by the Cabinet in August 2014. The four key aspects of the programme are the management of rhino populations, compulsory or pro-active anti-poaching interventions, national and international collaboration and long-term sustainability measures, which include the inclusion of communities in all initiatives aimed at ending rhino poaching.
Among the measures in the approach bearing fruit has been the deployment of the Department’s Environmental Management Inspectors, better known as the Green Scorpions, at the O R Tambo International Airport to make sure that non-compliance with the National Environmental Management: Biodiversity Act (NEMBA) and its Regulations are enforced. The main aim is to detect the trafficking of wildlife products.
As part of the national roll-out of this initiative, we are in the process of deploying Green Scorpions to KwaZulu-Natal. These inspectors will be based at King Shaka International Airport (KSIA) and service Durban harbour, the Airport and the Golela border post.
The Deputy Minister called on communities to blow the whistle on rhino poaching, and wildlife crime.
“By blowing the whistle on rhino poaching and wildlife crime you are not only contributing towards saving a species for future generations – our children, grandchildren and great grandchildren – to enjoy and benefit from, you are also contributing to a safer society,” she said. “I would again like to appeal to all of you here today, to become the eyes and ears of the police – to report rhino and wildlife crime, and to state clearly: Not on our Watch!”
Issued by: Department of Environmental Affairs