First lions born in Camdeboo in almost 200 years

A year after welcoming its founder pride of lions, Samara Private Game Reserve is celebrating the birth of its first litter of cubs
A year after welcoming its founder pride of lions, Samara Private Game Reserve is celebrating the birth of its first litter of cubs
Image: MARNUS OSCHE

Just one year after welcoming its founder pride of lions, Samara Private Game Reserve is celebrating the birth of its first litter of cubs.

Born to the first wild lion and lioness to roam the Plains of Camdeboo near Graaff-Reinet in more than 180 years, the cubs represent a victory for wild lion conservation, according to Samara founder Sarah Tompkins.

“We are ecstatic about this birth,” Tompkins said.

“It’s a sign that our move to rewild the landscape to create the conditions for new lion populations has been successful.”

The birth of the cubs — believed to be a litter of three, however yet to be confirmed as the lioness has not allowed anyone to close — is significant for its contribution to wild lion conservation in a region from which lions had gone locally extinct.

Lions have come under threat globally for several reasons, including habitat loss, conflict with humans and the illegal trade in lion bones as substitutes for tiger bones in Eastern medicine.

In SA the canned lion trade, in which lions are bred and hunted in captivity, threatens the survival of the species in the wild.

There are now estimated to be just 3,000 wild lions in the country.

Professor Graham Kerley, director of the Centre for African Conservation Ecology at Nelson Mandela University, said: “Lions are the sentinels of wildness in Africa, and the success of these apex predators in our protected areas is a key indicator of the effectiveness of conservation measures.” 

The latest additions to Samara’s lion population are thought to have been born in September, after a typical gestation period of 105-120 days.

For the first few weeks of their lives, lion cubs remain hidden in dense vegetation to avoid detection by potential predators.

In choosing to give birth on one of the reserve’s steep mountain slopes, their mother has given them the best chance of survival.

She has periodically moved den sites across the escarpment, not far from her hunting grounds on Samara’s plateau grasslands, where large herds of black wildebeest and blesbok abound.

The introduction of lions at the beginning of 2019 is one of several initiatives by Samara to restore the Great Karoo’s rich biodiversity.

Over the past 22 years, thousands of wild animals have been successfully reintroduced into the reserve, the Eastern Cape’s largest, including antelope, zebra, buffalo, cheetah and more recently, elephant in 2017.

The activity undertaken by Samara in recent years means the reserve — located in one of just 36 global biodiversity hotspots — is close to achieving its goal of restoring this Great Karoo ecosystem to optimal functionality.

“The birth of the first wild lion cubs in the region in almost two centuries is a wonderful milestone on our journey,” Tompkins said.

“It serves as a great incentive to continue our commitment to the preservation of this fantastically biodiverse region.”

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