ESCAPE NATURE As you read this, three lions are exploring their new home in KZN. Here’s why this is great news These cats got the creamSomkhanda Game Reserve is situated in the far northern wilds of KZN, between Pongola and Mkuze. ___4711111 Youth For Lions is the latest global awareness initiative. Find out why it’s not cool to pet cubs, and how kids can spread the word, on bloodlions.org infrastructure and train local people in hospitality and reserve management. ‘There is no way captivebred lions could ever have been used in an exercise like this as they have no conservation value,’ says Ian Michler, who was also involved in Blood Lions. ‘This is about expanding habitat using wild lions, and the project being managed by the recognised conservation community.’ Somkhanda’s credentials are golden it has also been involved in the Black Rhino Range Expansion Project, so doing the same for lions is just part of a day’s work. The reserve’s ecotourism approach is also laudable here visitors are encouraged to learn and contribute. Guests are involved in gathering data on game drives and bush walks, they Howard Clelland, Teaga n Cunniffe, supplied

In May this year, a male and two female lions were transferred asleep, on the back of vet Dr Mike Toft’s special trailer from Phinda to Somkhanda Game Reserve in northern KZN, which is owned and run by the local Gumbi community. The trio have spent the past two months acclimatising in a boma, and are ready to stretch their legs.

‘We feel privileged that the reserve is going to be a Big Five reserve our dream is now a reality,’ says Nathi Gumbi, a key player in this community that, after successful process of land claims in 1998, turned what were cattle and game farms into a conservation success.

The lions are the first in the area in 100 years. This means that biodiversity and ecological balance in the reserve is now restored. But the transfer is also part of a lion conservation strategy that aims to expand their range and genetic pool.

Lions were reintroduced at Phinda in 1992, and they’ve thrived to the extent that the numbers often exceed the capacity of the reserve. Finding a place to translocate them to is the tricky part, as habitat loss is one of the greatest perils facing our planet’s wildlife. It’s no surprise that one of the people behind this initiative was also a producer on Blood Lions, the recent documentary that exposed the canned-hunting and captive-breeding industry. Dr Andrew Venter, CEO of Wildlands, has been involved with Somkhanda since 2013, helping to upgrade infrastructure and train local people in hospitality and reserve management. ‘There is no way captive-bred lions could ever have been used in an exercise like this as they have no conservation value; says Ian Michler who was also involved in Blood Lions. ” This is about expanding habitat using wild lions, and the project being managed by the recognised conservation community. Somkhanda’s  credentials are golden –  it has been involved in the Black Rhino Range Expansion Project, so doing the same for lions is just part of a day’s work.

The reserve’s ecotourism approach is also laudable – here visitors are encouraged to learn and contribute. Guests are involved in gathering data on game drives and bush walks, they can help with cattle dipping in neighbouring villages, or sign up for a wildlife conservation experience that includes helping to dehorn rhinos and replace their tracking collars. Back to the lions: ‘They’re bonding nicely and have been feeding well,’ David Gilroy, Wildlands Strategic Manager, told us at the end of June. ‘We anticipate a smooth release into the reserve at the end of July.