Rewilding iSimangaliso: Lions, cheetah and wild dog projects bloom in time for summer holidays

2016-10-24 11:27
Post a comment 0

Cape Town - South Africa's first World Heritage Site iSimangaliso Wetland Park is celebrating a number of success stories related to its rejuvenation and rewilding of certain species in the park - and reason enough to put it on your summer bucket list this holidays. 

Having recently suffered through a hard-hit period of drought the park has confirmed the boosting of its lion coalition through three male lions, collared and released from their holding boma into the uMkhuze section. 

Added to this there have been a number of successes related to its endangered cheetah and wild dog populations.

“The rewilding of iSimangaliso through major eco-systems restoration and the introduction of historically occurring species like lions, cheetah, wild dog, elephant and buffalo is resulting in more sustainable conservation and economic turnaround of the park with meaningful empowerment and benefits to local communities. The introduction of lion has boosted tourism arrivals to the uMkhuze section of iSimangaliso,” says iSimangaliso CEO, Andrew Zaloumis.

The release of the lions from the Tswalu Kalahari Reserve, sees lions that are now genetically distinct from the pride of 16 lions presently residing in iSimangaliso, all of which are from the same blood lines.  This introduction boosts the establishment of a viable population in iSimangaliso after the last lion was shot by conservationists some 47 years ago for going “rogue” in what was then an unfenced park. The first lion introductions back to iSimangaliso took place in December 2013 and 2014 respectively.  

ALSO SEE: New lion blood line introduced to iSimangaliso Wetland Park

The first family of four lions - translocated from Tembe Elephant Park - were released in December 2013 and comprised an adult female and three sub-adult offspring. Their arrival catapulted iSimangaliso to ‘Big 7’ status. This was followed by the coalition of two males (brothers) and three females during the course of 2014.

(Photo: Supplied)

All iSimangaliso’s adult lions are fitted with satellite collars to monitor their movements for biological and safety reasons. They are tracked daily by Park staff supported by Wildlife Act volunteers with the information feeding into Park management.

'Introduction brings iSimangaliso closer to achieving its conservation vision' 

“This historic introduction brings iSimangaliso closer to achieving its conservation vision, the full restoration of eco-systems functioning, and the re-establishment of the migratory patterns of historically occurring animal populations – from the top of the Lebombo Mountains to the sea – as they occurred in the times of Shaka and before fencing fragmented the landscape and constrained animal movements.  It is a reversal of the historic decimation of game for apartheid military bases, commercial plantations and other agriculture,” says Zaloumis.

(Photo: Supplied)

SEE: WATCH: Rare sighting as wild dog puppies come out to play!

The park has also announced a litter of 14 healthy pups as part of its endangered wild dog (or African Painted Dog) population in the park.  As little as 1 400 fully grown adult dogs left globally, the two packs that have been established in iSimangaliso’s uMkhuze form a vital part of South Africa’s metapopulation.  

(Photo: Supplied)

uMkhuze's reintroduction of the cheetah is yet another success story, despite initial challenges. Cheetah are categorised as vulnerable by the IUCN with a population of around 1500 adults in South Africa.

'A good chance of seeing these on a game drives within the park'

Today, fifteen individuals live within this area some of which have tracking collars to assist management.

There is a good chance of seeing these on a game drives within the park, especially while the vegetation is still so sparse. Recently, no fewer than four individuals were spotted, while the previous weekend a visitor at the Mantuma Rest Camp captured photographs of a magnificent cheetah within metres of the huts.  

“The success of the lion, wild dog and cheetah introductions is very rewarding for staff more so because they have overcome early setbacks that placed them in jeopardy.   Snaring, though largely under control in the now fully fenced uMkhuze section of iSimangaliso, remains along with rhino poaching, one of the daily challenges facing our rangers” Zaloumis concluded. 

For over a century, the uMkhuze section of iSimangaliso has protected wildlife and biodiversity, through flood and drought, political upheaval and disease.

"This remarkable 37 000 ha portion of the World Heritage Site has endured and displayed the utmost resilience. uMkhuze was renowned as one of the two last remaining bastions of black rhino in the 1960’s before the campaign to repopulate other protected areas. Today it boasts the ‘Big 5’ and so much more," says  Zaloumis.

ALSO SEE: iSimangaliso Then and Now pic shows dramatic conservation efforts

What to read next on Traveller24:

New iSimangaliso holiday home development stopped in its tracks

Weekend Review: Captive-bred lion ban, Missing Samsung mystery and the middle-seat wars

Where to pitch your tent when adventure calls