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The next step in the relocation of lions to Majete Wildlife Reserve, Malawi Posted on: Thursday, July 12, 2012

After months of preparation, the wheels were set in motion for the relocation of four lions to the Majete Wildlife Reserve situated in the lower Shire River valley of Malawi. Four free ranging lions were donated by the North West Parks and Tourism Board in South Africa with two male lions selected from Pilanesberg National Park and two female lions from Madikwe Game Reserve. The lions were selected from different prides to maximise genetic diversity and ensure the establishment of a viable lion population after relocation.

On Monday 18 June a team of ecologists, veterinarians and conservationists set out to capture the lions. Timing was crucial as all four lions were ideally meant to arrive at the boma (holding facility) at the same time and wake up together to start their 30 day quarantine in South Africa before they are ready to be taken across the border. The two capture operations were planned to run concurrently with a team in Madikwe and a team in Pilanesberg. In preparation for the capture day, the Pilanesberg team had already collared the two males with VHF collars to simplify locating them on the big day. With all in place, a prepared capture team set out early Monday morning following the low beep of the radio signal. Despite the best laid plans, the first male lion was located deep in the bush, totally inaccessible by road. Although unfortunate, this eventuality was also anticipated and plan B was set into motion with the lion subsequently being darted from a helicopter. The team carried the then unconscious lion to the vehicle and set off in search of the second male.

The second male presented problems of his own, having attracted a large group of tourists with a freshly made kill at the side of a tourist road. The team skilfully surrounded the pride of lions and shot the young male with the tranquilizer dart treating the onlookers to a rare glimpse of wildlife conservation in action. The rest of the pride retreated cautiously, watching from a short distance, giving the team a chance to load the second male into the vehicle.

All four lions arrived at the boma at approximately the same time and as had been hoped, awoke together - flustered but fine. They bonded almost immediately and have regained their appetite having finished off an entire wildebeest within 3 days after capture. They will spend the next 33 days in this quarantine environment at the Pilanesberg National Park where they will await the long journey to their new home in Malawi, scheduled for 30 July.

The entire operation was co-ordinated by Dr Anthony Hall-Martin, Director of Conservation Development for African Parks Network with many people that worked tirelessly towards the success of this project. Pilanesberg ecologist, Steven Dell, Madikwe Operations Manager, Declan Hofmeyr and African Parks appointed veterinarian Dr Andre Uys were instrumental to the capture operation. Dr Emmanuel Midzi, the state veterinarian for the Moses Kotane District, North West Province, oversaw the veterinary procedures and will be responsible for certifying the necessary documentation for their eventual translocation. These procedures include vaccinations for rabies and cat flu, and cleansing of internal and external parasites. A delegation from the Netherlands based Adessium Foundation, an organisation who financially support conservation developments, including African Parks’ ventures, were invited to attend the operation. The Adessium guests and many others assisted greatly through their contribution of man power and enthusiasm.

African Parks would like to thank all involved for their dedication and drive. An operation such as this always requires the input of many committed individuals who have all contributed towards returning Majete to a fully functioning ecosystem and a ‘Big-5’ reserve once again. Amongst the most important contributors are Robin Pope Safaris, operators of the Mkulumadzi Lodge in Majete, who are generously funding the entire operation.




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