There’s a big difference between 200 and 15 000 hectares, and it would appear as if the country’s most talked about lion, Sylvester, was all too aware of this. It took him only minutes to move out of the enclosure he’s been in since November, into the larger Kuzuko contractual area of the Park, when the fence was cut over the weekend.
The two lionesses were released on Friday afternoon when a SANParks vet darted them and fitted one with a tracking collar. As they are never far apart, one collar will provide the location of both at any given time. “On their first night out they caught a kudu and the very next morning a red hartebeest, confirmation that they can successfully fend for themselves in the wild,” said Addo Elephant National Park Conservation Manager, John Adendorff.
Sylvester and the other male were released on Saturday afternoon. A carcass was placed about 50m from a corner in the fence, the fence was cut and Sylvester was out first. He headed straight to the carcass and started feeding, followed shortly thereafter by the younger male. “Sylvester is already showing signs of being the pride leader, on Sunday night chasing the females off their kill,” continued Adendorff.
Sylvester, too, has proven that he hasn’t forgotten how to hunt, having caught an adult black wildebeest on Monday morning.
“Now that it appears he finally has a place where he belongs, without threat, and the fact that he has bonded so closely with the younger male, we are confident that Sylvester will have no need to ever stray again. His satellite tracking collar location is monitored regularly and easily provides us with an accurate assessment of where the two are,” Adendorff said.
Sylvester first escaped from Karoo National Park on 5 June 2015 last year and managed to evade capture for over three weeks. After his capture he was fitted with a combination satellite/VHF collar to find his location should he manage to get out again. This collar then alerted authorities on 28 March last year that the lion had once again left the park’s boundary, and played a big role in tracking him and returning him back to the Park much quicker – three days later on 31 March. There was then much deliberation about where he could be relocated to, and in May 2016 he finally arrived at Kuzuko.
The two lionesses arrived at Kuzuko in May 2015. They became a national news item in December 2014 when park authorities made a desperate plea for visitors to report any sightings of them after their mother died of a suspected snake bite. More than six weeks after they were last seen and long after park staff had given up all hope of finding them alive, new light arose when a guide alerted rangers that he may have spotted them on 10 January 2015. Although sceptical, the park’s rangers still went out and miraculously found the cubs – albeit severely malnourished and lethargic.
Finally, the younger male also has a tale to tell – being the only male in a litter born to Josie last year. He would have experienced the same fate Sylvester did had he been left in Addo’s main camp section of the park – being driven out of the pride and having to fend for himself, possibly even killed by older, more dominant lions. He was moved to Kuzuko to join Sylvester in June last year.