Karoo National Park gets two new lions

Niklaas and Witwarm before their release into the Karoo National Park. (SANParks)
Niklaas and Witwarm before their release into the Karoo National Park. (SANParks)
Beaufort West - Two male lions from the Kgalagadi Transfrontier National Park were released into the Karoo National Park outside Beaufort West on Thursday, bringing the total number of feline predators now in the Park to nine.

Niklaas (named after former Kgalagadi Park Manager, Nico van der Walt) and Witwarm (derived from Nico's son, Hano's nickname) were released from a lion enclosure in the eastern section of the Park. Park Management predicts that they will most likely develop their own fixed territories within the park and defend these territories from the other resident males.

In 2010 a small founder population of lion was introduced into Karoo from Addo Elephant National Park outside Port Elizabeth. The group was originally all from Kgalagadi. They have settled very well into the Karoo National Park and two cubs were born in November last year.

The decision was made to introduce the two three-year-old male lions into the Karoo to prevent inbreeding and to increase genetic diversity in the Park. The two have been housed in a temporary enclosure since their arrival in November to adapt and acclimatise to their new environment.

Van der Walt says, "The introduction of predators into Karoo National Park forms part of attempts to restore the ecological processes in the Park, specifically to re-establish the process of predation. This will help to control herbivore numbers naturally and decrease the need for capturing and culling, which is in line with SANParks' ‘minimum interference' philosophy".

In protected areas with no large predators, herbivore numbers can soar to unnaturally high densities that could in return be detrimental to sensitive ecosystems like the Karoo. The lion fulfill their ecological role by removing older and weaker animals from the system and by impacting on the herbivore population size in the Karoo National Park.

Park officials hope that the two sub-adult males will take over the role of dominant males at a later stage, when the two older males reach their "retiring age" and lose their control over the pride.

Kgalagadi lion are known for their impressive dark brown manes and enhance the tourism product offered.

"Introducing more lion into the Park has an economic spinoff as it improves the ecotourism value of the area, as large carnivores are charismatic species which people like to see, or even merely to know are present in an area," says van der Walt.

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