“Within the year, iSimangaliso Wetland 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,” says iSimangaliso CEO Andrew Zaloumis.
Eland, one of the largest and most majestic antelopes, once trod their ancient migratory routes from the heights of the Lebombo Mountains to the coastal plains. With iSimangaliso’s bold vision to reintroduce all historically occurring species, they will soon be seen again in the world heritage site.
In December 2013, iSimangaliso Wetland Park introduced lions after an absence of 44 years to the uMkhuze section. A phased introduction was undertaken with an initial lioness and three cubs followed by two males several months later. The third and final complement was that of three lionesses translocated from Tembe Elephant Park in June 2014. From this founder population of nine will grow the new generation of felines in iSimangaliso.
But not too quickly – due to the high breeding rate of lions, and in order to avoid the future challenge of over-population in a fenced conservation area, the final three lionesses recently underwent an innovative contraceptive procedure in line with the park’s conservation management strategy. Referred to as a unilateral hysterectomy, this fairly new veterinary procedure was done by Dr Mike Toft, who has previously done similar operations in lions and other mammal species. The expected result is that half of the usual number of offspring will be born to each mother. Dr Toft reports that the technique has shown good results, including lionesses operated on two years ago that have produced 1-2 cubs as opposed to 4-5 cubs per litter.
Once operated on, the lionesses were released into the holding bomas for a recovery period of a couple of weeks. Prior to release, one of the females was fitted with a satellite collar enabling constant tracking in order to monitor their movements and interaction with the other lions. Conservation Manager Eduard Goosen reported that according to the early satellite tracks it appeared as if the lionesses had joined up with the younger group of lions.
iSimangaliso’s latest conservation exercise was funded by the iSimangaliso Rare and Endangered Species Fund – with the lion’s share of funds being donated by riders in last year’s iSimangaliso MTB 4 Day powered by Nashua where over R100 000 was raised for the protection, monitoring and introduction of these species into the iSimangaliso Wetland Park world heritage site. With the tremendous support of the 2014 riders, we aim to raise as much as R400 000 for the eland introduction.
To date, iSimangaliso has introduced numerous species into various sections of the park, including black and white rhino, wild dog, cheetah, lion, buffalo, oribi, tsessebe, giraffe, elephant and waterbuck. Says Andrew Zaloumis, “The uMkhuze section of iSimangaliso is the oldest proclaimed conservation area within iSimangaliso, having been in existence for over a century. We look forward with great excitement to finally seeing this area realise its full potential with a complete complement of world-class visitor attractions and all of the historically occurring animal species.”