A roaring success, Samara’s lions

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After an absence of 180 years, lions are once again roaming the Camdeboo plains near Graaff-Reinet in the Eastern Cape. As part of a plan to restore the biodiversity to its previous status, Samara Private Game Reserve embarked on an ambitious journey to return these mighty apex predators to the landscape.

The introduction of a male and female as part of a founder pride is excellent news for lion conservation.
The newcomers are from two different prides from Kwandwe Private Game Reserve, with genetics
stemming from lions in both Madikwe Game Reserve and Kruger National Park.

This move not only establishes Samara as the first Big Five game reserve in the Great Karoo, but also brings founders Mark and Sarah Tompkins’ vision to transform the area into a fully restored and functional Great Karoo ecosystem closer to reality. According to Sarah Tompkins, co-founder of Samara, the land on which Samara was established 21 years ago is made up of 11 old livestock farms and much has been done to return the area to its former state. “Vegetation communities have improved significantly through land restoration and removing goats and sheep; antelope species have been re-introduced, and in 2004 the first wild cheetah made its return to the area after 130 years. More recently, the reintroduction of elephants, including two large bulls, has restored megaherbivore ecosystem processes.”

Isabelle Tompkins, who is involved with marketing and strategic projects at Samara, says after six weeks in aboma to bond together as a pride, the pair was released into the greater reserve. It is still too early to tell whether the introduction of lions has brought about big change. However, cheetahs have avoided this part of the reserve while the lions were in the boma, explains Isabelle.

“It seems that even though they have not seen a lion before, smell and instinct are powerful motivators,” she says. According to Tompkins, the introduction of the lions might force animals that were previously more nocturnal, such as buffalo and kudu, to change their behaviour and the way they use the landscape.

For now, the newcomers have settled on the plateau grasslands, an area also known as the ‘Samara Mara’
where antelope are abundant. “We have mostly left them alone to settle in, but we are able to track their movements using satellite collars,” says Tompkins, “and already we have had some wonderful sightings.”

The two were also seen mating, so the pride might grow in the near future. The introduction is not only great for the ecology of the reserve, but will draw local and international tourists. This contributes to economic development and job creation, benefiting a community where unemployment is rife.

Written by: René de Klerk

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