Li­ons ma­ke a co­me­back

Graaff-Reinet Advertiser - - Voorblad -

Mo­re than 180 y­e­ars ago, the G­re­at Ka­roo was ro­a­med by the ma­je­stic Ca­pe li­on - a par­ti­cu­lar­ly mag­ni­fi­cent black-ma­ned sub­spe­cies.

Wi­ped out by hun­ters, t­heir re­la­ti­ves are being wel­co­med back to Sa­ma­ra Pri­va­te Ga­me Re­ser­ve ne­ar Graaff-rei­net thanks to an am­bi­ti­ous re-in­tro­ducti­on pro­ject.

Sa­ma­ra is now ho­me to a foun­der pri­de of li­ons as part of a pro­ject to re­turn the Ka­roo to the sta­te of as­toun­ding bi­o­di­ver­si­ty it on­ce en­joy­ed. T­heir pre­sen­ce on the re­ser­ve will help to re­sto­re a on­ce-thri­ving e­cosy­stem.

The mo­ve is a sig­ni­fi­cant one for se­ver­al re­a­sons. For a s­tart, the­re is a pres­sing need for con­ser­va­ti­on i­ni­ti­a­ti­ves tar­ge­ting li­ons: the spe­cies has dwind­led by 43% in the past 20 y­e­ars so that cur­rent li­on po­pu­la­ti­ons are es­ti­ma­ted at be­t­ween 20 000 and 30 000.

In South A­fri­ca, the­re are just 3 000 wild li­ons.

Thre­ats to the spe­cies in­clu­de con­flict with hu­mans, de­ple­ti­on of t­heir prey ba­se due to ha­bi­tat loss and the bushme­at tra­de, and the il­le­gal tra­de in li­on bo­nes for tra­di­ti­o­nal me­di­ci­ne in the Far East. In South A­fri­ca, the gre­a­test c­hal­len­ge is po­sed by the ‘can­ned li­on’ in­du­stry, w­he­re cubs are bred in cap­ti­vi­ty, of­ten hand-re­a­red, on­ly to la­ter be shot by trop­hy hun­ters in small en­clo­su­res. The­se li­ons ha­ve no con­ser­va­ti­on va­lue. This emp­ha­si­ses the need to cre­a­te well-ma­na­ged me­ta-po­pu­la­ti­ons – in ot­her words, spa­ti­al­ly se­pa­ra­te groups that al­low for trans­lo­ca­ti­ons to en­su­re ge­ne­tic di­ver­si­ty and to es­ta­blish foun­der po­pu­la­ti­ons in a­re­as w­he­re li­ons on­ce thri­ved, but ha­ve sin­ce been wi­ped out. Sa­ma­ra is a ca­se in point. His­to­ri­cal re­cords in­di­ca­te that the last wild li­on in the a­rea was seen in 1840.

From the re­ser­ve’s per­specti­ve, the li­ons’ re­turn marks a sig­ni­fi­cant mi­les­to­ne.

Not on­ly does it es­ta­blish Sa­ma­ra as a Big Fi­ve ga­me re­ser­ve, the first in the G­re­at Ka­roo, but it al­so ad­van­ces the vi­si­on of Sa­ma­ra foun­ders Mark and Sa­rah Tomp­kins: to trans­form the a­rea in­to a ful­ly-re­sto­red and functi­o­nal G­re­at Ka­roo e­cosy­stem.

Says Sa­rah, “The land on which Sa­ma­ra was es­ta­blis­hed 21 y­e­ars ago is ma­de up of 11 old li­ves­tock farms in one of the wor­ld’s 36 bi­o­di­ver­si­ty hots­pots. Al­re­a­dy, much has been do­ne to re­turn this land to its for­mer sta­te: ve­ge­ta­ti­on com­mu­ni­ties ha­ve im­pro­ved sig­ni­fi­cant­ly; an­te­lo­pe spe­cies ha­ve been re-in­tro­du­ced and the first wild chee­tah ma­de its re­turn to the a­rea af­ter 130 y­e­ars in 2004. Mo­re re­cent­ly, the re-in­tro­ducti­on of e­lep­hants, in­clu­ding two lar­ge bulls, has re­sto­red me­ga­herbi­vo­re e­cosy­stem pro­ces­ses.”

The new li­on po­pu­la­ti­on me­ans that the e­cosy­stem has an a­pex pre­da­tor, and po­si­ti­ons Sa­ma­ra one step clo­ser to a­chie­ving its ul­ti­ma­te go­al of es­ta­blis­hing a se­ries of e­co­lo­gi­cal cor­ri­dors and pu­bli­cpri­va­te part­ners­hips which will see the re­gi­on be­co­me South A­fri­ca’s thi­rd lar­ge­st pro­tected a­rea.

Sa­rah no­tes that, as a furt­her ad­van­ta­ge, the in­tro­ducti­on of li­ons has po­si­ti­ve im­pli­ca­ti­ons for the com­mu­ni­ty at lar­ge. It im­pro­ves the re­ser­ve’s a­bi­li­ty to ma­ke a con­tri­bu­ti­on to sus­tai­na­ble re­spon­si­ble eco-tou­rism in the a­rea, which in turn le­ads to job c­re­a­ti­on. Ad­ded to this, it ge­ne­ra­tes ad­di­ti­o­nal skills de­ve­lop­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties at the SA Col­le­ge for Tou­rism Trac­ker A­ca­de­my, which trains 16 young in­di­vi­du­als per y­e­ar in the art of tracking and is ba­sed at Sa­ma­ra.

“This is a mo­nu­men­tal mo­ment; not just for us at Sa­ma­ra, but al­so for the gre­a­ter South A­fri­can con­ser­va­ti­on com­mu­ni­ty,” Sa­rah con­clu­des.

This is a mo­nu­men­tal mo­ment, not just for us at Sa­ma­ra, but al­so for the gre­a­ter South A­fri­can con­ser­va­ti­on com­mu­ni­ty.

Sa­ma­ra is now ho­me to a foun­der pri­de of li­ons as part of a pro­ject to re­turn the Ka­roo to the sta­te of as­toun­ding bi­o­di­ver­si­ty it on­ce en­joy­ed.

The new li­on po­pu­la­ti­on me­ans that the e­cosy­stem has an a­pex pre­da­tor, and po­si­ti­ons Sa­ma­ra one step clo­ser to a­chie­ving its ul­ti­ma­te go­al of es­ta­blis­hing a se­ries of e­co­lo­gi­cal cor­ri­dors and pu­blic-pri­va­te part­ners­hips which will see the re­gi­on be­co­me South A­fri­ca’s thi­rd lar­ge­st pro­tected a­rea.

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