Cape Town – South African National Parks (SANParks) has defended its decision to put down seven lions in the Karoo National Park after the pride left the park and killed a number of sheep from a neighbouring farm.
After coming under fire this week, SANParks said in a statement on Friday afternoon that its decision to put down the seven lions deemed to be damage causing animals “was not taken in haste nor lightly”.
Among those who condemned the killing was Beauty Without Cruelty SA. Chairperson Toni Brockhoven said: “Killing an entire pride of lions because they escaped clearly inadequate fencing at the Karoo National Park is a national disgrace, and SANparks owes the country an explanation as to why non-lethal methods were not used.
“There are no ‘damage causing animals,’ only humans who believe they have the right to claim everything as their own. When free living lions are significantly outnumbered by ‘farmed’ lions it’s already a serious issue, and shot for killing sheep? You mean (insured) sheep who would be killed by the farmer anyway? He lost money?
Killing an entire pride of lions because they escaped CLEARLY INADEQUATE FENCING is a national disgrace and SANparks…
“So called ‘problem’ animals are almost always human-created, and non-lethal options should be the first, second and third choices; This tragedy could have been avoided by ensuring standards and regular fence and perimeter checks. What impact will the loss of an entire pride have on the genetic diversity, ecosystem and biodiversity, on a continent with only -25 000 lions? We should be hanging our heads in shame.”
Fiona Miles, director of FOUR PAWS in South Africa, also slammed the action saying: “By maintaining quality standards and regular fence and perimeter checks, this could have been avoided.
“More instances of this nature will occur if there is not a commitment undertaken to fix the long-term issue with fencing. Appropriate preventative steps should have been taken after the first escape of the lion pride given the likely probability for a second attempt.
“The loss of an entire pride can have an enormous impact on the entire ecosystem and biodiversity. By removing these wild lions, a significant loss in the gene pool will occur and impact the already dwindling wild lion population of the country,” says Miles.
“With no human life in immediate threat, the measures taken by slaying a tribe has been excessive and should never have occurred in the first place. With proper management, this situation could and should have been avoided at all cost,” Miles concluded.
On Friday SANParks explained that responses to transgressing lions that pose threats to livestock and people have a high level of urgency and are executed after a thorough assessment and observation of the circumstances over time.
“In this case, SANParks was well placed to weigh-up its options in responding to a difficult set of situations that had presented itself in Karoo National Park with regard to its lion population.
“The crucial aspects which were considered in making the decision to put down these specific animals are, firstly, this female lion group had left the Park before killing a number of sheep from a neighbouring farm and presenting a threat to human beings. Secondly, the pride had familiarised themselves with a specific area from which they escaped and one of the members of the pride had developed a habit of digging underneath fences.
“Further exacerbating the situation, is the terrain of the Karoo National Park which is mountainous with many small streams and gullies. When a fence crosses many small streams and gullies it presents opportunities for it to become porous regardless of diligence in fence maintenance and rainstorms in particular often lead to small, localised floods strong enough to create a hole in a fence for a lion to go through.
“It had become increasingly evident that with all factors considered, these lions had a high chance of leaving the Park again and continue posing a risk to livestock and people; SANParks is obligated and has a legal duty to respond and mitigate such risks. The challenge of management of lions in small reserves such as Karoo National Park requires the constant trade-off of risks with benefits and the pro-active management of challenges
“Lions as a species are generally opportunistic, they prefer easy prey, are extremely fast learners and could easily become habitual live-stock raiders when circumstances allow. In most instances when lions start catching livestock, they also tend to lose their fear for humans; such lions present a danger to human life.
“The option of moving the lions to other state or privately owned reserves that form part of South Africa’s lion meta-population was not viable due to their own space constraints and the pride’s history of catching livestock. To further illustrate the constraints that reserves face in accommodating larger lion populations, as part of it lion management strategy, SANParks annually offers lions for donations to South African reserves. However there has been a demonstrable decline in reserves that can comfortably accommodate further numbers; the donation drive in the past year resulted in nought takers
According to SANParks Large Mammal Ecologists, various drivers contribute to the behaviour of damage causing and problem lions. These include the fact that mostly male lions disperse when they reach adult age and that prides move and disperse when competing with others for food or mating. In circumstances where there is no fencing and no other land-uses in between reserves, this phenomenon presents fewer risks to communities, however in small reserves such as Karoo National Park immediately bordered by communities, the challenges are more arduous.
Management of lions in smaller reserves is particularly challenging as in such an environment, lion densities increase rapidly given the fewer threats to their survival. It is estimated that unchecked, populations within these reserves can increase by 22% per annum resulting in an insufficient prey-base to support the increasing population which in turn compounds the risk of the lions transgressing the bounds of the reserve.
That said, South Africa is amongst the top five African range states that conserve lions and small reserves play a critical role in contributing to South Africa’s 3500 wild lion population; combined, the lion population in 59 state and private small reserves comprise over 700.
Karoo National Park has 14 lions remaining, consisting of three to four groups, with two active satellite collars and VHF monitored collars, SANParks said.