SA National Parks (SANParks) has stood by its decision to put down seven lions it believes posed a threat to humans and other animals in the Karoo National Park.
It said the decision to put down the animals was not taken lightly and was weighed against the safety of livestock and people.
“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,” said SANParks spokesperson Reynold Thakhuli.
“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.”.
He said the situation was further exacerbated by the terrain of the Karoo National Park, which was 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. Rainstorms 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 these lions had a high chance of leaving the park again and continue posing a risk to livestock and people.”
Thakhuli said SANParks had an obligation and legal duty to respond and mitigate such risks.
“The 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,” he said.
“Lions as a species are generally opportunistic. They prefer easy prey, are extremely fast learners and could easily become habitual livestock raiders when circumstances allow.
“In most instances, when lions start catching livestock, they also tend to lose their fear of humans. Such lions present a danger to human life.”
Moving the lions to other state or privately owned reserves that form part of SA’s lion meta-population would not viable due to space constraints and the pride’s history of catching livestock, added Thakhuli.
“To further illustrate the constraints that reserves face in accommodating larger lion populations, as part of its lion management strategy, SANParks annually offers lions as donations to SA 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 no takers.”
Karoo National Park has 14 lions remaining.