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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London – Set on a private concession in the northern reaches of Botswana’s Okavango Delta, the six-tent Duba Plains camp is remote even by this region’s standards.
Interlaced by fine channels, which make the flat, dusty landscape look like a cracked crème brulee, it’s only accessible by light aircraft, and there’s no phone or wifi connection.
Leopards are seen here, but the most common cats are lions. National Geographic explorers and filmmakers Beverly and Dereck Joubert, co-owners of Great Plains Conservation (responsible for managing the camp), documented the resident pride who skilfully honed buffalo hunting techniques to feed their swelling number and have also learned to swim through the Delta’s waterways.
It was a soap opera story of turf wars, power struggles and cruel infanticide, but these days the pride has fractured and signs indicate that another group may soon take over.
Judging by the muscular physique of the lions I encounter – arguably the largest in Africa – it will be an almighty battle.
This year, there’s talk of reintroducing cheetahs into the concession and even rumblings of white rhino as part of The Great Plains/&Beyond joint initiative, Rhino Without Borders, to translocate threatened rhino from South Africa to the Delta. Their exact whereabouts though, is carefully guarded.
Botswana’s commitment to conservation and a successful anti-poaching strategy account for a big part of the country’s appeal. This is one of the most expensive safari destinations in Africa, but also one of the most and popular.
Another draw is the wealth of luxury accommodation on offer, including several options from the Belmond group where mod cons include hairdryers, air-con and fluffy white bath towels. Yet comfort isn’t at the expense of an authentic wildlife experience, as I discover during my stay at the Khwai River Lodge bordering the Moremi Game Reserve.
According to the World Wild Fund for Nature (WWF) there are an estimated 3,000 wild dogs remaining and one of the best places to observe the endangered species is Botswana. Unlike national parks, there are no restrictions on start times in community-owned land so we set off before dawn to beat an influx of self-drivers and tourists from nearby campsites.
It’s notoriously difficult to keep pace with wild dogs, but we give it our best shot when we find a pack chasing mpala. Hurtling off road through leadwood forest we chase the dogs, whose hunting strategy involves splintering into smaller groups and even rolling around in elephant dung to disguise their scent. Their stamina is outstanding, and even with a powerful engine we can’t keep up.
Much easier to track are the slow and graceful elephants who come in 100-strong herds to bath and drink in the Chobe River, bordering Namibia, during dry season (May to October). Operating a mobile camp that moves every five days, &Beyond offer an opportunity to avoid the crowds descending on Chobe National Park.
After a night spent camping beneath a canopy of acacia trees, we find a lion pride at the river which has reached it’s lowest level in 25 years. A young cub with a terrible wound in his leg is lagging woefully behind. His mother pauses and looks back at him, then continues into the thickets.
Not every story has a happy ending, even in paradise.
The country’s tourism sector is poised for a major boost following the release into wilderness of the seven lions recently translocated from South Africa to Akagera National Park in the Eastern Province.
The lions, which include five females and two males, were brought to Rwanda late last month and have been staying in a boma within the park, from where they were being closely monitored by veterinary doctors and other employees of the park.
“Earlier today, the gates of the quarantine boma were opened to allow the lions to exit the temporary enclosure. A waterbuck carcass was placed outside the gates to encourage them to explore their new home,” reads a statement from Rwanda Development Board, under whose docket falls tourism and conservation.
“Tourists now have the opportunity to see the lions in the wilderness of Akagera, as previously viewing was restricted to park personnel who had been monitoring the lions in the boma,” continued the statement.
The five females from & Beyond Phinda Private Game Reserve and two males from Tembe Elephant Park, both in South Africa, were brought to Rwanda at the end of June in a ground-breaking conservation effort for the country.
“The time in quarantine has allowed the lions to adjust to their new surroundings, bond with each other, and recover from what was likely the longest wild lion translocation in conservation history, taking over 45 hours.”
According to the statement, all the seven lions are fitted with satellite collars, which will allow the park management to track their movements, and see whether they stay together as a pride or split up as they explore their new surroundings.
The lions will be given names in the “near future” and according to RDB, those who helped in the translocation process have been given the privilege to give them names.
Lions had been extinct from the park after many were killed by residents surrounding but according to RDB, a lot has been done to ensure minimal contact between animals and the communities around the park.
Last year, tourism fetched $304.9 million (about Rwf218 billion), representing a four per cent increase from the $293.6 million (about Rwf210 billion) generated in 2013.