NATIONAL NEWS - WhatsApp warnings started doing the rounds this week after a few sightings of a lioness and her cubs were reported in the small bush town of Marloth Park, which borders the Kruger National Park (KNP).
Lions and cubs have also been spotted on the banks of the Crocodile River that forms a natural border between the town and the KNP, reports Lowvelder.
Gerrie Camacho from the Mpumalanga Tourism and Parks Agency (MTPA) and an expert on carnivores, expressed his concern and on May 19 sent out a warning urging residents to spend as little time outdoors as possible.
The lioness and her cubs had thus far managed to evade both game rangers and security companies.
Camacho said it was not uncommon for carnivores such as hyenas and leopards to visit Marloth Park, but they were removed when they began causing trouble. He added that it was easy for the carnivores to enter the town, which appealed to them as they could sense there were no similar species nearby, making it a safe new ground to explore.
“Marloth Park and the KNP are separated only by two stretches of fence, which makes it easy for animals to crawl underneath. The fence is constantly under strain, being damaged by animals and by rising water during the summer.”
Camacho said it was a challenge to keep these animals out of the town, describing it as a “push-and-pull situation”.
“The animals are pulled by the new, unoccupied area and pushed by the other carnivores in the KNP.”
According to Camacho, when carnivores were spotted in Marloth Park, MTPA’s capture team would attempt a capture once the animal was in a suitable spot. This, he said, was not always easy as the foliage in the town was quite dense. Once the animal was captured, it was removed and safely relocated to the KNP.
He went on to explain that the lioness and her cubs could not be allowed to remain on the loose as the situation could turn dangerous.
“The lioness will be very protective of her cubs and can easily turn on humans if she feels threatened.”
He added that it was crucial for the MTPA to remove the cat as soon as possible as she was wandering ever deeper into the town, an indication, he said, that she planned to settle there.
Camacho warned that people should avoid walking around, especially in the late afternoon and early morning.
“Steer clear of dense bush, and don’t jog or cycle, as this could trigger the lioness’s hunting instinct.”
This advice came after a Marloth Park resident trying to feed a zebra in her back yard yesterday was shocked to see the lioness right in front of her, stalking the zebra. Camacho added that the danger was there, and very real, saying that the lioness seemed to favour one area in particular – east of the shopping centres and towards gate two of the KNP.
“If you come into contact with the lions, do not run or turn your back on them. Rather, be as loud as you possibly can and wave your arms in the air should the lioness charge or mock charge,” he said.
“MTPA will do its best to see that the lions are removed in a professional operation, but it needs everyone’s support by reporting any sightings immediately, and also by respecting the temporary ‘no-go’ pedestrian areas as indicated by the different security alerts.”