Thursday, 22 September 2016

SOUTH AFRICA: iSimangaliso Wetland Park New Home To Lions

Genetically distinct lions have found a home in KwaZulu-Natal. On Friday, the kings of the jungle were released into the uMkhuze section of the iSimangaliso Wetland Park from the Tswalu Kalahari Reserve.

They are distinct from the existing 13 lions which are currently at iSimangaliso - which all come from the same blood line.

Their arrival was part of a plan to bring lions back to the Wetland Park after 44 years of absence.

The new lions will be kept in bomas for several weeks before being released in October when they will acquaint themselves with the existing pride.

Their arrival marks a historical occasion for iSimangaliso. It was 47 years ago when the last lion was shot for going “rogue” from what was then an unfenced park.

New introductions took place in December 2013 and 2014.

“The first family of four lions - translocated from Tembe Elephant Park - was released in December 2013 and comprised an adult female and three offspring. Their arrival catapulted iSimangaliso to Big 7 status. This was followed by the addition of two male brothers and three females during the course of 2014,” said iSimangaliso chief executive, Andrew Zaloumis.

To slow down the breeding rate of the lions, the females underwent partial hysterectomies. This required the removal of one horn of the uterus.

He explained that lions bred prolifically and this action should halve the number of litters, obviating the need for translocations to other parks in the short-term.

Only two cubs have since been born.

“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.

This was 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 animals’ movements. It was a reversal of the historic decimation of game for apartheid military bases, commercial plantations and other agriculture,” said Zaloumis.

“It follows the settling of land claims, the removal of thousands of hectares of commercial eucalyptus and pine plantations and the construction of more than 350km of Big 5 fencing.

“In addition to the ecological benefits, the introduction of lion has boosted tourism arrivals to the uMkhuze section. The pride is regularly seen along with the two packs of painted dogs,” said Zaloumis.

He said all adult lions were fitted with satellite collars to monitor their movements for biological and safety reasons. They were tracked daily by park staff and volunteers.

“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 (antelope). Marine life includes protected whale and shark populations, coelacanths, turtles as well as a myriad of species on our coral reefs,” Zaloumis said.