Michael (for Stan) - Thursday
Stan has left the US and is stuck in a third world country with shaky internet. (No, he didn’t fly home to Cape Town; he’s with Mette in Denmark.) So here’s a little piece about a one time resident of the Karoo National Park, where I spent last weekend. Don’t worry; unlike my usual environmental pieces, this one has a happy ending.
|Gemsbok in the Karoo National Park|
The Karoo National Park is a 350 sq mile area which is broken into a number of disconnected pieces, each covering a section of the Great Karoo—a large semi-arid region in the center of South Africa punctuated by characteristic koppies, small hills usually with rock caps. The sections each protect a particular ecological niche and, as with all desert regions, there are many interesting and endemic species of animals, birds, reptiles and plants. Some of the larger animals that were common there in the past have been reintroduced—Gemsbok, Hartebeest, Mountain Zebra. There's even a small population of the Plains Zebra that has been bred back towards the now extinct Cape subspecies called the Quagga.
|Quagga look alikes|
The largest section is just outside the unofficial capital of the Great Karoo—Beaufort West—and is the section that tourists can access in ordinary vehicles. There is also a small tourist camp with thatched units facing the imposing Karoo escarpment.
And there are lions. Also reintroduced some time ago, partly to control the larger herbivores who are confirming their adaptation to this environment with burgeoning numbers, and partly, no doubt, to appeal to tourists. Enter Sylvester.
A really magnificent lion, Sylvester was supposed to beef up the Karoo lion gene pool. Unfortunately the lions in charge when he arrived were a bit dubious about that idea and he got a somewhat cold shoulder. Then, just over a year ago, the Karoo experienced the sort of huge downpour and flooding rivers that happens very infrequently, but is very dramatic when it does. The rushing water opened a large hole in the fence, and Sylvester decided to look for greener pastures. A farmer spotted his tracks and put out bait for him, but Sylvester ignored that and helped himself to no less than eight of the farmer’s sheep instead. Karoo lamb is regarded as the best in the country and Sylvester was happy to confirm that for himself. Eventually he was recaptured, and for a while things returned to normal.
|Tourist camp at the Karoo National Park|
Then this Easter another opportunity presented itself, and Sylvester went walk about again. But now he knew two things. One, Karoo lamb is excellent; two, keep out of sight. He led the National Parks people a merry chase and held onto his freedom for a month before master tracker Pokkie Bonadie traced him to a bush where he had been hiding. He was darted and unceremoniously returned by helicopter to the Karoo National Park.
|This looks even less comfortable than commercial economy seats|
|Sylvester awaiting sentencing|
In the meanwhile, he'd become a media darling, well followed on Twitter. So there was an outcry when the authorities categorized him as ‘a problem animal’ and announced that he was to be put down. (Well, he had made them look rather foolish and taken out more than 30 livestock in the process.) According to one lady we spoke to in Beaufort West, the whole town turned out to demonstrate and toy-toy - a protest dance made famous in anti-apartheid days. Sylvester was not 'a problem animal,' they said. He was a hero!
The authorities relented, thought it through, and decided that Sylvester would be an ideal addition to the new lion pride they were building at the Addo National Park in the Eastern Cape. There's an interesting story there too, as the females earmarked for him are two cubs whose mother died after being bitten by a snake, and who managed to survive on their own for several months before being rescued. So Sylvester is settling into his new home, and getting acquainted with his new family - a family of opportunistic survivors.
|Sylvester's new mates|
The Eastern Cape is famous for its delicious high quality beef. Watch this space!