20 January, 2016

Hunting for lions in the Karoo National Park

- gardening for biodiversity
in Cape Town, South Africa

We didn't come to See the Lions, but we DID hope to See the Lions. We came via Baviaanskloof. 25 years ago we were in the Karoo National Park. We could walk, over the koppies, with a group of eland just over the ridge. Keep very still. And quiet. Nothing to be heard, except their snuffling and snorting. Then just as suddenly they are alert, aware of us, and gone.

Be aware of the lions

In November 2010 lions returned to the Karoo. There is an electric fence around the accommodation. You may only walk outside the camp on guided hikes, escorted by an armed ranger. Who explains carefully – what to do – when mock charged by a lion. We went to see the Karoo bossies, where once we walked with eland …

Burchell's zebra. Plain trousers

Zebras with plain trousers are Burchell’s. With a short erect mane of striped hairs – rather like a child’s toy. Even a solitary old stallion prefers to travel in a mixed herd of animals. They are inquisitive, and will stop to look back, before galloping away. They will bite and kick, fending off even wild dogs. ‘Their only enemy is the lion’.

We saw a group of zebra. A stallion. Three mares. Each with her foal. Later in the day, we saw the group again. If it was the same group – the foal who kept stopping to say – Look Mum is that …? – was no longer with them.

Striped trousers are Mountain Zebras. Their reserve is near Cradock. The Karoo has the largest herd with 500 of these endangered zebras.

Zebra info from Paul Rose – The wildlife of South Africa

Mountain zebra. Striped trousers

In September two lions, two lionesses and four cubs came to the Karoo Park from Addo, and ultimately from Kgalagadi. The last wild lion was shot at Leeu-Gamka in 1842. The Leeu and the Gamka rivers use the Afrikaans and San words for lion. Because there were no predators, other solutions had to be found for burgeoning numbers of gemsbok, red hartebeest, eland, kudu and ostrich. Lunching on leaf ears in Gondwana.

Game drive, last evening ...

The Ungardener was disappointed that we hadn’t Seen the Lions, so we went out for a game drive in the evening light in November 2010. I had a feeling we would see them. Slow down. Back up a bit. A little more. There. See the ears?

Look carefully. See. The ears?

The first lioness we saw

Into the lion’s mouth.

Big teeth!

We returned to camp before the 7 o’clock summer curfew. Next morning, he went out alone. Back to the same place in the clearer more silvery light of dawn.

The adult lions have radio collars. The rangers can track where they are, what habitat they prefer, and who they ate for lunch. Wild-coyotes-patrol-Chicago thanks to BioBabbler for this collar story.

Karoo lion with tracking collar in 2010

We saw a family of three, one of the lionesses and her two cubs. Below the Klipspringer Pass on the Potlekkertjie Loop.

One of the cubs

Meet the gaze of a young lady. A lioness cub, with a delicately beautiful face, belying her future where Lunch will be a largish herbivore.

The second cub

I do miss that experience of being able to walk freely. Our ranger had only been at the park for two months after training at the Karoo Desert National Botanical Garden.

2010 Background info from SANParks news

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Pictures by Jurg Studer

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  1. Magnificent animals. I've only ever seen them once in the semi wild, at a private game park near Addo. I was rather pleased I didn't have to watch them at lunch.

    1. yes - the idea is more than enough - don't need to see the blood and guts and ...

  2. Funny I can't just type in the box until I click on "reply" first. Anyway you must have a good long lens for your camera, I can't see you getting that close to the wildlife. I would never tire seeing the cats and other wildlife as I'm sure you don't, well if they were right in my backyard...maybe. Thanks for sharing.

    1. the camera is not as good as he'd like.
      But you can see in the ears photo, how far away we were, sitting in the closed car on the road!

  3. What an amazing thing to be able to see these beautiful animals. -Jean

  4. The lions look amazing. I've heard a baby zebra recognises a mother zebra by her strips....which would mean all zebras have slightly different strips? I love the sunset, very much Africa!

    1. I know the leopard researchers can identify their animals by the pattern of spots - so the zebra's stripes too.

  5. The large cats are beautiful; a recent, excellent programme about 'hunters' made them seem less deadly; many attacks fail and they expend huge amounts of energy each time. It must be wonderful to see them up close.

  6. Interesting story and amazing photos, I would have loved to go on a photo safari like this. The only photo safari I am able to do these days is to see the wildlife in my own garden, which at times is quite intruding and challenging to be honest (think squirrels!), but I would have swapped for the opportunity to photograph zebras and lions any day :-)

  7. Such a thrilling post, Diana. I love the zebras.

  8. what an amazing, exciting post, Diana. I adore your zebra pics. I would feel the same, shame you can't walk freely but it's good that authorities recognize it's their (the lions') home, and have worked out a way of sharing the land. We have lions too, but they're rather different - sea lions!

  9. You were oh so close for that shot, glad you were in the car.I'd like to get a better zoom lens but they can be very pricey. So what's with the fire ? Any post coming soon about it ?

    1. We've just walked along that stretch of coast. Deeply grateful to teams of skilled firefighters who are still monitoring for any flareups! The fire is out. No houses were lost. I'll add a picture to Wednesday's January garden post.

  10. Wonderful! Terrific photos! These animals, lions and also the zebras, are magnificent. I have never seen them other than in a zoo, though I did experience a "drive-through" type zoo that made it seem like we were on safari.

  11. I had no idea there were different zebra and love the look of the Burchell’s. And what a stunning face on that lioness!