The Chances of spotting lions in the Mountain Zebra National Park near Cradock have doubled! This is thanks to the introduction of two lionesses onto the property to join the two resident males.
The two sisters were brought into the Park, which is situated just outside Cradock in the Eastern Cape, from the Kwandwe Private Game Reserve near Grahamstown. They are about two years old and are now sharing Mountain Zebra’s 28 000 hectares with the two five-year-old brothers.
The females were a donation from Kwandwe and they bring with them strong, healthy genes, and will add to the genetic variety in the Park. It is hoped that together, the four will form a pride structure in Mountain Zebra National Park. One of the lionesses is fitted with a satellite tracking collar, as they will most likely move together while exploring the Park. The collar will allow park management to monitor them so that rangers and researchers can observe what habitats they use, their proximity to the males and other predators and which species they prey on. Park Manager, Megan Taplin, says the collars will enable them to reach a fine balance of managing the lion population carefully in relation to the size of the Park and their impact on prey species. Their management forms part of a larger initiative to mimic the natural processes that regulate lion social behaviour and population growth, which includes swapping individuals between parks to ensure constant introduction of new genes, and administering cycles of contraception to lionesses to more closely approximate natural birthing intervals.
The males were introduced into the Park in April 2013 – becoming the first free-roaming lions in the area after an absence of over 130 years. They were from the Welgevonden Game Reserve in Limpopo. To-date they are known to prey mostly on buffalo, eland, hartebeest and kudu. The two are often seen by guests while on self-drives through the Park, or on guided game drives.
The decision to introduce lions into Mountain Zebra was mainly for biodiversity reasons. Lions would have occurred in the area historically and it is SANParks’ policy to reintroduce the wildlife species which would have occurred in an area before hunting or habitat loss forced them to local extinction in earlier centuries. They are the third predator species in the park, after the introduction of cheetah in 2007 and brown hyena in 2008.
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