lions were reintroduced to the northern Zululand uMkhuze section of iSimangaliso Wetland Park in early 2014 after an absence of nearly 50 years and a few months in the quarantine bomas The past season’s drought was devastating, but rain in May brought a short-lived relief to the area where food for antelopes and other ungulates was reaching a critical level. It was a long, hard, dry killer of a drought which broke in October with enough rain to see the Mkuze River start to flow once again into the vast Nsumo Pan, which had been reduced to a series of shallow puddles.

Lions from Tembe Elephant park in Zululand

The lions did very well through the lean times and are breeding, says Conservation Manager Eduard Goosen. The original pride bred well and the beautiful Animals are on the increase. There have been further releases into the reserve since the original four animals were brought in from Tembe Elephant Park further north. In stage two a further three lions arrived, including two brothers. Initially, there were concerns the new males might kill the young lions already in the reserve, but they all settled in well and started to grow new families.

New genetic bloodlines

October saw an interesting introduction of yet more lions, this time from the west of South Africa.

The lions from Tswalu in the Kalahari are not related to the existing lions in the uMkhuze area and were introduced to help prevent interbreeding. The new genetic bloodlines are essential as all the lions in the Reserve were related to each other.

Good chance of seeing lions in the reserve

Although the uMkhuze is part of the greater iSimangaliso Wetland Park, a huge UNESCO heritage site, the reserve itself is not enormous.

This means that the chances of spotting the lions are good. New cubs were seen at the world-class KaMasinga hide, a favorite spot for game viewing. The well appointed rustic hide is actually over the water, giving photographers an almost 360-degree view of life at an African pan. Through the drought months, the elephants churned the pool into slushy mud – large herds of wildebeest, impala, zebra and nyala trekked there for water which was pumped through a carefully disguised outlet.

Young cubs at the water hole

Pressure on the water resources made this a good area to hunt, so it is no wonder that some visitors were delighted by the presence of the new young cubs at the hide this past week. The three little ones were a very welcome addition to the lion population. As the lions that were introduced have tracking collars, their movements are known at all times. They don’t always stay in one area and there are chances of seeing them at the other viewing platforms.

Around the hides, there are secure walkways for visitors, but places like Nsumo Picnic site and between the car parks can carry some risk of a close encounter with the predators. Because of this, the park authorities have recently announced that they will fence off the car parks near the secure walkways to the hides.

The main accommodation area is not fenced either and visitors are advised not to walk around after dark.

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