On Friday afternoon – just over a week shy of the anniversary of his initial escape from the Karoo National Park – Sylvester, the lion which went on a second walkabout outside the park in March this year, arrived safely at his new home in the Addo Elephant National Park in the Eastern Cape, the South African National Parks (SANParks) said.
The operation to move the lion began on Friday 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 road trip to Kuzuko.
“Once he was safely inside the [new] boma, the vet reversed the effects of the sedative and he was left to drowsily recover and explore his new surroundings. Although the females [lionesses] 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,” SANParks said in a statement.
Nicknamed “Sylvester” in the media, the three-and-a-half year old male was successfully relocated from the Karoo National Park just outside Beaufort West to the Addo Elephant National Park’s Kuzuko contractual area about two hours drive 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 had a long and interesting history of their own, having arrived at Kuzuko just over a year ago on May 20, 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 visitor 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,” SANParks said.
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 hope arose when a guide alerted rangers that he may have spotted them on January 10 last year.
“Although skeptical, 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 there before their move to Kuzuko, where they had been thriving ever since.
In the longer term, the three would be released into the park when the fence between Kuzuko and the neighbouring Darlington section of the park was dropped, which would provide them with 60,000ha over which to roam. Sylvester’s arrival in Addo brought to 19 the number of lions in the park.
Sylvester first escaped from the Karoo National Park on June 5 last year and managed to evade capture for over three weeks. He was then fitted with a combination satellite/VHF collar to track his location should he manage to get out again. This collar then alerted authorities on March 28 that he had once again left the park’s boundary, and it played a big role in tracking him and returning him to the park much quicker – three days later on March 31.
The decision to relocate Sylvester was one of several options considered by SANParks and was the one with the most benefits for the lion as well as SANParks’ broader predator management programme.
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