Birth control for lions at iSimangaliso Wetland Park

IN an attempt to control the lion population at the iSimangaliso Wetland Park, a vet has launched an innovative contraceptive procedure to halve the number of offspring born to each mother.

The procedure, referred to as a unilateral hysterectomy, was performed on three lionesses that were introduced to the park in the greater St Lucia area in northern KwaZulu-Natal.

The procedure is performed through a small midline abdominal incision which is then stitched and glued, allowing healing to occur naturally in the open bushveld.

The three lionesses are the final complement of a phased introduction. Conservation manager Eduard Goosen said satellite tracks showed the lionesses had since joined a younger group of lions.

Dr Mike Toft, who has performed similar operations on lions and other mammals, said the technique had shown good results. Lionesses operated on two years ago had produced either one or two cubs as opposed to four to five cubs per litter.

Although lions were introduced to the park after 44 years in December, due to the high breeding rate, the lionesses had to undergo the procedure to avoid over-population in a conservation area.

The introduction of lions to the uMkhuze section of the park began with one lioness and three cubs in December. A few months later two lions were brought to the park.

iSimangaliso chief executive Andrew Zaloumis said the new generation of felines in the park would grow from the nine animals.

“Within the year, the park intends to realise our conservation vision of restoring all historically occurring game back into the world heritage site. With the introduction of eland, the next and final species will be brought back,” he said.

iSimangaliso has introduced black and white rhino, wild dog, cheetah, lion, buffalo, oribi, tsessebe, giraffe, elephant and waterbuck to the park.

“The uMkhuze section is the oldest proclaimed conservation area within iSimangaliso, having been in existence for more than a century. We look forward to it realising its full potential with world-class attractions and all of the historically occurring animals,” Zaloumis said. – Nivashni Nair

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