In April 2013, 130 years after they had last roamed free in the area, lions were introduced to the Mountain Zebra National Park near Cradock in the Eastern Cape Karoo. On a recent visit we were lucky enough to see these lions at a kill on the Kranskop Loop.
The carcass was right next to the road. One of the lions was eating noisily, bone and sinews cracking. His brother lay about 10 metres away gazing quietly into the distance. Most of the buffalo’s rump had already disappeared into the two hungry lion tummies. We watched for more than an hour until too many cars – in the Mountain Zebra park context that’s about five – sent the lion at the kill stalking off to lie with his brother.
But our experience at the buffalo kill showed that the lions were providing so well for the jackals that they could afford to be casual, no unseemly rush to eat when they were already well-fed. Not like their cousins at Kruger or Kgalagadi who will risk their lives to try to steal a morsel while the lions are still guarding their kill.
Mountain zebra kill
In the afternoon we went back to the Kranskop Loop to see what was happening at the kill but found no activity other than a black cloud of flies. From the top of the hill we had a good view down to the Rooiplaat Loop a kilometre or two away. We noticed four cars cruising up and down so we decided the join them, hoping they’d spotted some of the park’s cheetahs.
There were no cheetahs, just the same voracious lion brothers, this time at a mountain zebra kill. They were quite far from the road and hidden by a row of small bushes and long grass, so visibility wasn’t nearly as good as it had been on the buffalo kill unless they put their heads up. Those who’d missed seeing the lions at the buffalo kill were elated nonetheless.
Two lionesses were introduced to the park in October 2015. The hope was for the four of them – the five-year-old males and the two-year-old sisters – to form a pride structure.
One of the females was fitted with a satellite tracking collar, so rangers and researchers can keep tabs on them, see where they go, how close they are to the males, and which species they take down as prey. ‘The lionesses are settling very well and seem to be concentrating in the central area of the park,’ Megan told me. ‘They’re preying mainly on black wildebeest and red hartebeest. They joined up with the brothers on New Year’s Eve and have been seen together in the Rooiplaat area fairly often since then.’
[Update: the first litter of free roaming lion cubs was born in April 2016.]
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Beginner's guide to the Mountain Zebra National Park
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