IT COULD have been a thoroughly tasteless beer ad. In fact, it was a message in a bottle.
The photograph that captured the extraordinary vignette was snapped by Janine Snyman during a recent trip she made to the Addo Elephant National Park.
SANParks spokesman Megan Taplin said yesterday that Snyman, who lives in the Addo area, was driving through the park with her husband when they spotted a young male lion reclining in the grass next to the road.
“Stopping to view the lion, they watched the young male get up – and then pick up in his mouth an empty beer bottle that was lying in the grass,” Taplin said.
With the bottle in his mouth, the lion sauntered over to a stone signpost, jumped on top and lay down.
After a while, he dropped the bottle and walked off in the company of another young male.
But this bizarre behaviour could easily have ended in a much more ugly way, park conservation manager John Adendorff said.
“This is a powerful message to visitors to our national park to take care they do not litter.
“The bottle could easily have been broken and he could have cut his mouth, which would have prevented him from feeding.”
Ecologist Prof Graham Kerley, director of the Centre for African Conservation Ecology at NMMU, said two likely scenarios could account for the lion’s strange behaviour.
“It depends on how fresh the bottle was and how bored the lion was,” he said. “If it was fresh, he might have been intrigued by the smell.
“I don’t know of another scenario like this involving a lion but wild animals in general do fiddle with human debris, especially when they are bored,” Kerley said.
“I agree with the message from SANParks – litter-bugs endanger animals with their thoughtless behaviour.”
Adendorff said that besides the ban on littering, the park’s other rules, like speed limits and bans on disturbing wildlife, were in place to protect wildlife and ensure visitor safety.
“One of the perennial transgressions by some irresponsible visitors is when they get out of their vehicles inside the game area.
“People who wish to assist by reporting this kind of bad behaviour and other things like litter should phone the manager on duty on 082- 471-0267, or the park’s reception on (042) 233-8619.
“Park staff can then react to the report while the culprits are still in the park,” Adendorff said.