South African National Parks said in a statement today that its decision to put down seven lions – deemed to be damage-causing animals – in the Karoo National Park was not taken in haste nor lightly.
SANParks said responses to transgressing lions that pose threats to livestock and people have a high level of urgency and are executed after a thorough assessment and observation of the circumstances over time. In this case, SANParks says it was “well placed to weigh-up its options in responding to a difficult set of situations that had presented itself” in Karoo National Park with regard to its lion population.
Crucial considerations to kill the lions
SANParks says the crucial aspects which were considered in making the decision to put down these specific animals were:
- this female lion group had left the Park before killing a number of sheep from a neighbouring farm and presenting a threat to human beings.
- the pride had familiarised themselves with a specific area from which they escaped and one of the members of the pride had developed a habit of digging underneath fences.
SANParks said that further exacerbating the situation, is the terrain of the Karoo National Park which is mountainous with many small streams and gullies.
“When a fence crosses many small streams and gullies it presents opportunities for it to become porous regardless of diligence in fence maintenance and rainstorms in particular often lead to small, localised floods strong enough to create a hole in a fence for a lion to go through.
“It had become increasingly evident that with all factors considered, these lions had a high chance of leaving the Park again and continue posing a risk to livestock and people; SANParks is obligated and has a legal duty to respond and mitigate such risks. The challenge of management of lions in small reserves such as Karoo National Park requires the constant trade-off of risks with benefits and the pro-active management of challenges.”
SANParks says lions as a species are generally opportunistic, they prefer easy prey, are extremely fast learners and could easily become habitual live-stock raiders when circumstances allow.
“In most instances when lions start catching livestock, they also tend to lose their fear for humans; such lions present a danger to human life,” said SANParks.
“The option of moving the lions to other state or privately owned reserves that form part of South Africa’s lion meta-population was not viable due to their own space constraints and the pride’s history of catching livestock.
“To further illustrate the constraints that reserves face in accommodating larger lion populations, As part of its lion management strategy, SANParks annually offers lions for donations to South African reserves, however, there has been a demonstrable decline in reserves that can comfortably accommodate further numbers; the donation drive in the past year resulted in nought takers.”
According to SANParks Large Mammal Ecologists, various drivers contribute to the behaviour of damage-causing and problem lions. These include the fact that most male lions disperse when they reach adult age and that prides move and disperse when competing with others for food or mating. In circumstances where there is no fencing and no other land-uses in between reserves, this phenomenon presents fewer risks to communities, however, in small reserves such as Karoo National Park immediately bordered by communities, the challenges are more “arduous”.
Management of lions in smaller reserves is particularly challenging, says SANParks, as in such an environment, lion densities increase rapidly given the fewer threats to their survival. It is estimated that unchecked, populations within these reserves can increase by 22% per annum resulting in an insufficient prey-base to support the increasing population which in turn compounds the risk of the lions transgressing the bounds of the reserve.
SANParks pointed out that South Africa remains amongst the top five African range states that conserve lions and small reserves play a critical role in contributing to South Africa’s 3,500 wild lion population; combined, the lion population in 59 state and private small reserves comprise over 700.
Karoo National Park has 14 lions remaining, consisting of three to four groups, with two active satellite collars and VHF monitored collars.
The killing of the seven lions at the Karoo National Park caused a national outcry.