Escaped Kruger Park lions have been spotted
The four male lions that escaped from the Kruger National Park on Sunday night have been sighted‚ as efforts to return them to the park continue on Tuesday.
The lions have been spotted near the N4/Crocodile River gorge area which is managed by the Mpumalanga Tourism and Parks Agency.
South African National Parks general manager of veterinary wildlife services‚ Dr Markus Hofmeyr‚ said the lions are currently believed to be in rocky‚ mountainous and thickly wooded uninhabited areas south of the Crocodile gorge.
“Since the first light all efforts are‚ and will continue to be made‚ by Mpumalanga Tourism and Parks Agency officials‚ with the support of SANParks to locate either the lions themselves or any recent sign of their presence so that a joint operation to capture the lions can be launched‚” he said in a statement.
“The MTPA have very experienced staff dealing with the situation‚ and together with SANParks every effort will be made to locate and capture them‚” the statement said.
“Our rangers‚ air wing and veterinarians are on immediate standby to provide any further support required by MTPA to capture the lions.”
The lions were first spotted on Sunday in Matsulu‚ a village outside the park estimated to be about 40 minutes east of Nelspruit and 3km from a train station at Kaapmuiden - situated at the foot of the Crocodile Gorge.
Speaking to TimesLIVE‚ an individual involved in the search‚ who wishes to remain anonymous‚ said that the lions have been spotted near a 27‚000 hectare nature reserve in the Crocodile Gorge Conservancy‚ in the Nelspruit area.
The individual assured residents there is no need to worry.
“The lions are not close to people and all farmers and workers in the area have been alerted to stay vigilant while the search carries on‚” he said.
In May‚ five lions escaped from the park‚ also near Nelspruit. Four of the lions were recovered after a long search and the park said the fifth may have wandered back to the park.
SANParks said "it is unlikely that the four lions that have been spotted in the Matsulu area are the same as the lions that escaped two months ago in the Komatipoort area".
The Kruger National Park is the largest park in the country and is home to 1‚800 lions.
Asked whether there is an issue with the fencing around the park‚ SANParks spokesperson William Mabasa told TimesLIVE that fencing is not the problem.
“If that was the case‚ all the animals would be escaping‚” Mabasa said.
“Openings in fences are created in various ways. When there are storms in the area‚ the banks of the streams and rivers erode and create openings or smaller animals such as warthogs dig under the fence‚” he added.
Parts of the park experienced flooding earlier in the year due to heavy rainfall.
Mabasa said that it is in the nature of male lions to roam across far distances.
“When male cubs become old enough‚ they leave their pride to establish new territory‚ which could result in them escaping from the park‚” he said.
In its statement‚ SANParks elaborated on this‚ saying: "It is important to note that the lion population has grown exponentially and is an attributing factor to young males looking to own new territories within the (Kruger) Park. This is as a result of naturally occurring factors like drought which we have seen in the last two years‚ allowing for an abundance of animals for predators like lions to feed on‚ and an increase in their population. The fence is surrounding the Park and is largely a disease control intervention managed by the National Department of Agriculture and serves primarily to keep wild animals from getting into contact with livestock."
The park authorities advised the public that the lions "should not be approached or interfered with in any way or for any reason".
Should anyone see the lions or any sign of their presence‚ SANParks said they should immediately make contact with MTPA officials at 083 626 6792‚ SANParks on 076 801 9679 or 013 735 0197/4064 or the SAPS on 080010111.