TOMORROW will see a pride of wild lions introduced to the Somkhanda Community Game Reserve in northern KwaZuluNatal. The pride of three lions (two female and one male) has been given to Somkhanda by andBeyond Phinda, as part of its lion-management strategy.

“Lions were introduced into andBeyond Phinda back in 1992 and have flourished to the point that on regular occasions the lions have exceeded the carrying capacity of the reserve and have had to be translocated to other reserves in South Africa;’ said conservation manager for andBeyond Phinda Private Game Reserve Simon Naylor.

“Wild lion numbers are declining across Africa due mainly to habitat loss and poaching. It’s crucial for the future protection and conservation of the African lion that we expand and protect new range. The introduction of lion into the Somkhanda Game Reserve is a massive boost for lion conservation in KwaZuluNatal, South Africa and Africa. It will help reverse the current trend of declining lion numbers and wildlion range.’

This lion translocation was inspired by the groundbreaking feature documentary Blood Lions, which exposed the captive breeding and canned hunting industry.

“It is estimated that there are currently between 6 000 to 8 000 predators in captivity in South Africa, mostly living in appalling conditions with inadequate breeding and welfare protocols in place to protect them,” said Andrew Venter, Wildlands’ CEO and executive producer of Blood Lions.

“Furthermore, lion ecologists state that captive breeding plays no role in the conservation of this species, and to date no captivebred, handreared lions have successfully been rehabilitated into the wild. It is a shame that we now need to refer to lion as either wild or captive, but we at Wildlands are very proud to say that we have assisted in the expansion of wildlion range through the introduction of this pride to Somkhanda. This is truly a pride we can be proud of!”

“A central theme of the Blood Lions campaign calls for lion conservation to be managed by the recognised conservation.community;’ said Ian Michler, consultant and lead character for Blood Lions. “The Somkhanda release highlights what this entails: securing suitable habitat and using wild lions from reputable sources in a responsible release programme. Congratulations to Wildlands and its partners for this initi ative that increases the range of wild lands in South Africa.’

Empowers Africa were one of the first organisations to raise their hands and support the translocation. Krista Krieger, executive director and trustee of Empowers Africa, said: “The lion habitat expansion project to Somkhanda Community Game Reserve represents what we think is the key to the survival of the African lion — strong community buy-in, education about the ecological importance of lions and.community benefit from ecotourism.”

The translocation process will start tomorrow at andBeyond Phinda Private Game Reserve and will end when the pride are placed in a boma at Somkhanda. They will be housed in the boma for six to nine weeks to adjust, and Wildlands hopes to release them into the reserve at the end of July.