Crowd swamps rescuers for selfies with escaped lions

2017-05-10 11:07

Komatipoort – "Wow, it really is wonderful that God made all these animals," said Oupa Ngutshane as he stroked the tranquilised lion.

The lion was the first of four found on Tuesday after they had escaped from the Kruger National Park. The fifth escaped lion is still missing, Netwerk24 reported.

- Update: Search continues for last of five escaped Kruger lions

Ngutshane, a sales manager at a beverage company in Komatipoort, had made a special effort to drive to the search area near the town. 

"I am glad the lions are being tranquilised and not shot, so that my children and grandchildren can also get a chance to see them."

There were many inquisitive bystanders while helicopters on Tuesday afternoon circled overhead and a lion was shot with a tranquiliser dart.

An escaped lion is carried after being darted with a tranquiliser. (Alet Joubert/Netwerk24)

"Look, he’s just shot," a woman in a pastel-coloured crocheted top exclaimed when the chopper circled just above the crowd.

Later, there were so many bystanders next to the R571 that barriers had to be erected around the bakkie transporting the lion. It didn’t help much. The crowd stormed the bakkie, cellphones held high. One man even took a selfie with the lion before jumping off the bakkie.

On the bakkie, SANParks’ head vet Dr Markus Hofmeyr was having a torrid time. "We are trying our best to catch the lions, but it’s difficult."

The huge public interest made it even more difficult.

Search suspended

A member of the search party who wasn’t officially authorised to address the media, said: "Normally we capture escaped animals without much attention. With so many people here, mistakes might be made."

By 16:30, the search had been extended in the direction of the N4 and within 15 minutes another lion was tranquilised. Despite earlier warnings that lions were still on the loose in the area, people remained standing outside their vehicles to watch what was going on.

The search for the last of the escaped lions in an adjoining sugarcane field was suspended due to poor light.

"They are all young males which were probably kicked out by their pride," said SANParks spokesperson Ike Phaahla.

Animals escaping from the Kruger aren’t uncommon in the area. The Komati River, which forms a natural border with the game reserve, is very low at the moment. "Last week we darted five buffalo here and returned them to the park," said Phaahla.

Read more on:    sanparks  |  mbombela  |  animals

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