Inside story – escaped lions
South African’s started their week with the news that five lions had escaped from the Kruger National Park (KNP) during the early hours of Monday, May 8. This news had social media buzzing with interest from both local and international audiences. Spectators keen to get photos of the lions, flocked to the sugar cane farm near Komatipoort where the lions were found. Rey Thakhuli (Spokesperson, SANParks) gave regular updates on radio and other news platforms on the progress of the search and recapture of the lions. At day’s end on Tuesday, May 9, four lions had been recaptured and transported back to Kruger. The lions weighed around 180kgs and were all healthy.
To get the inside story of the rescue mission, GPS News spoke to Ike Phaahla (Media Specialist, SANParks). “The cost of the search operation is estimated at around R250 000 but we regard it as priceless since we recovered almost all them without any casualties and harm to the lions,” said Phaahla” “On site we had six rangers, two vets, two helicopter pilots and five rangers from Mpumalanga Parks and Tourism Association (MTPA). Wing support was provided by SANParks. It took the ground team nine hours to locate the predators with the chopper being airborne for seven hours. To keep people away from the site, the SAPS secured the area so that the rangers could do their work.”
“The vets, Dr. Markus Hofmeyer (GM, Veterinary Wildlife Department, SANParks) and Dr. Peter Buss (SANParks) darted the lions. Darting takes effect after about 20 minutes and is only effective for an hour at the most. Our Ranger bakkies transported them back to KNP. During the transportation a vet accompanied the lions to monitor their vital signs. Once in the Park the vet had to reverse the sedation before the lions could be released.”
There is still one male lion unaccounted for. “Our experts think that this lion might have back tracked into Kruger as the river was low. The lion is still being tracked by MTPA rangers with the support of famers and communities in the area.”
“We hope that the lions will not re-escape and that they will be able to establish their own territory in KNP. The trauma that these lions experienced during their escape will have warned them to steer clear of farms as they actually don’t like being around people,” concluded Phaahla.