After some time away, it seems as though I have returned to what has become a jungle. From being able to see for hundreds of meters, one can now only see a few feet in front of their nose as the grass has shot up to above eye level in places. The constant buzz of all the smaller critters has a very soothing effect compared to the traffic and sirens of the big city, it’s good to be back.
On the other hand, our larger critters, namely a mischievous group of lions, have not quite had the same soothing effect. Our salad eaters (herbivores) now have a much wider range to find food and water instead of concentrating around permanent water-points. This in turn makes it rather challenging for our predators to sustain their ferocious appetites as their food is now constantly on the move. Our lions in question have now taken to escaping from the reserve in search of an easy meal being that of the surrounding community’s cattle.
This is no easy matter, cattle are a sign of wealth and those that have acquired such beasts take great pride in their wellbeing. As you could imagine, the loss of these animals to a predator that should not be outside the reserve will be cause for quite a stir. The recent heavy rains, both from cyclone Dineo as well as the downpours prior to that have kept us busy here on the ground trying to repair fence damage through riverbeds. One of these gaps and one second was all the mother lioness and her cubs needed to make a break for it and find out what the great outdoors had to offer.
Fortunately for these feisty felines, they returned to safe ground. It is not uncommon for community members to kill damage causing lions on sight. This time, however, they notified us of the situation so that the matter could be dealt with in the classic African manner.
The scene consisted of 8 community members, 5 dogs, a tractor, a motorbike and the deceased (see pictures below). The four suspects were still at large, well hidden by the recent growth.
After a quick inspection of the scene and a brief chat with community members, that had successfully scared off the criminals, it was time to make some noise. Myself, two trackers, five village police and a gun proceeded into the fray. Three very brave men walked in front of the vehicle on the lookout for tire destroying stumps while the rest of us kept our eyes open for a group of hungry predators. Once we were in the last known sight of the lions everyone climbed on board and not 100 meters later we saw our first lioness.
Our objective was to flush the lions out of the long grass and hopefully scare them off back into the reserve. After some slow driving and some nervous walking through areas that were too thick we managed to get one more glimpse of one of the cubs before the trail finally went cold. I think we had made our presence and intentions clear.
With the exciting part done it was time to get to the nitty gritty. The community was not going to let this off light heartedly and they wanted results. Once I eventually explained that shooting one of the lions and handing out money was not a decision I could make, I offered an alternative to perhaps lure the lions back inside the reserve. This option was decided against after much deliberation.
In the end, the carcass was returned to the owners’ property and our anti-poaching team concluded that the lions tracks were seen entering back into the reserve the following day.
Where communities live in such close proximity of a natural reserve, situations like this are bound to happen. Lions and elephants are two of our greatest and most damaging escape artists. We have already collared two lions suspected of killing cattle and thus far they have remained silent. As exciting as it may be, hopefully it’s not too soon before I must don my detective shoes again.
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