The Path of a Fe­line Hou­dini

South African Country Life - - Conservation -

Sylvester first ac­quired his name and his fame when he es­caped from the Ka­roo Na­tional Park near Beau­fort West in June 2015. He was two years old – the lion equiv­a­lent of a hu­man teenager.

Within days, his ex­ploits had pro­vided ur­ban South Africans with some much-needed light re­lief, in the form of reg­u­lar SANParks up­dates.

Thanks to so­cial me­dia and 24-hour news, Sylvester took only days to be­come in­fa­mous, roam­ing 300km through live­stock farms and the Nuw­eveld Moun­tains, leav­ing a trail of fevered rumours, alarmed farm­ers and the car­casses of 28 sheep in his wake.

The lion led South­ern Africa’s best track­ers and a half-dozen snif­fer dogs a merry dance through the rough ter­rain. His cap­ture three weeks later could not have been more dra­matic, in­volv­ing a freak­ishly tricky shot from a Na­tional Parks vet­eri­nar­ian wield­ing a tran­quil­liser dart gun from a he­li­copter. Sylvester was re­turned to his for­mer home un­con­scious and swing­ing from a cargo bag un­der the chop­per, a dan­ger­ous op­er­a­tion that be­gan with the game cap­ture he­li­copter’s blades whirring only me­tres away from rocky moun­tain top.

By that time he’d made an R800 000 hole in SANParks’ bud­get. In March 2016, he broke out again. This time it was much eas­ier to find him – rangers had taken the pre­cau­tion of fit­ting him with a ra­dio col­lar. Three days and one dead cow later, he was brought back home.

In May 2016, he was translo­cated to Kuzuko and in Jan­uary 2017, he walked free again.

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