New life awaits SA lions after massive move to Moz
One of the largest operations of its kind will restore prides to delta ravaged by civil war
A group of 24 wild South African lions has been moved to a huge new home range in Mozambique, nearly two decades after they were wiped out from the area in the aftermath of civil war.
The US-based Cabela Family Foundation, which sponsored the move, said wildlife experts believed the founder group of 24 lions could multiply to 500 over the next 15 years.
Though larger groups of tame or circus lions have been moved previously, the movement of the 24 lions to the Zambezi Delta area is believed to be one of the largest single capture-and-translocation operations of wild, free-ranging lion across international borders.Dr Mike Toft, the KwaZulu-Natal-based wildlife vet who has been darting and capturing the animals at several reserves across SA over the past nine weeks, said the lions had been split into groups and kept in bomas to form three new prides.
The first pride was released at the weekend and the remaining two groups will walk out over the next seven days.
“We deliberately selected young animals between the age of eight to 22 months and there has been no fighting or drama in the quarantine bomas, so they seem to have bonded well.”“We had hoped to capture a round number of 25, but ended up pretty close to that, with 24 lions,” said Toft.
The animals have been moved to the Coutada 11 reserve, a massive stretch of land covering nearly two million hectares between the Gorongosa and Marromeu national parks.
The Cabela foundation said there were more than 200,000 wild lions in Africa a century ago, but their numbers had dwindled to about 20,000 across the continent today and were now considered extinct in 26 former range states.“As the largest-known effort of its kind, the Twenty Four Lions project is making a substantial investment in the Zambezi Delta area, whose lion population has been reduced due to poaching during civil war, as well as other biological barriers.”
The lions were captured from several reserves across the country, including Tembe Elephant Reserve in KwaZulu-Natal and private reserves in Limpopo and KZN in a project involving the Cabela Family Foundation, Ivan Carter Wildlife Alliance and Zambeze Delta Safaris and Mozambique’s National Administration of Conservation Areas.Toft told Times Select that while lions had disappeared from the Zambezi Delta area, huge herds of buffalo, zebra, hartebeest, eland and other herbivores had built up because of a lack of predators.
Though controlled hunting is permitted in Coutada 11, Toft said there was an assurance that no lions would be hunted for several years until their numbers reached substantial levels.
“When lions are kept within any confined boundaries their numbers increase rapidly and have to be controlled. In fact, the lions we moved from the South African reserves had been earmarked for translocation or euthanasing because their population numbers were reaching problematic levels.”
Fifteen of the 24 lions have also been fitted with irridium satellite collars to monitor their daily movements.According to the Cabela foundation, the release of a large number of lions into the Zambezi Delta area will also allow scientists to study the reintroduction of apex predators on the burgeoning herbivore populations and wider vegetation ecology.“As an example, the buffalo population in the delta has increased from 1,000 to 20,000 in 1994 and where there were 44 sable in Coutada 11, there are now are more than 3,000.
“For lions, a large area, adequate prey, low human density and active protection are the key factors for a viable, free-range wild population.”
The foundation said the scientific monitoring team would include zoologist Byron du Preez (Rhodes University, University of Oxford) and Carlos Bento (Eduardo Mondlane University, University of Cape Town).The Cabela foundation was established by Dick and Mary Cabela in 1961.
According to its website, the foundation has provided support to several organisations, including the National Boy Scouts of America Foundation, Kids Outdoor Zone and National Rifle Association, as well as various Catholic churches in Colorado and Nebraska.
It also funds the Philmont Scout Ranch at Cimarroncita in New Mexico where scouts “are inspired to become tomorrow’s dedicated outdoor enthusiasts by giving them unforgettable first-hand experiences of the integral role they play in conservation”, including hiking, hunting and fishing.