Butch Smuts Part 6.
Bruce Bryden studied Lions and their behaviour since 1971, he and Butch became good friends and the two started planning how to capture Lions. It was relatively easy, once the animal had been darted; it had to be kept in sight. Not quite that simple as the terrain was often thickly grown and rocky, a dated Lion would normally seek refuge in thick bush, when half tranquilized they would charge the following vehicle, of which the doors or windows were often removed to ease the darting process.
The capture team would in the beginning live in a caravan but towing it through the AFRICAN bush was also not always that easy. A structure of expanded metal structure with three sides covered with a tarpaulin roof was designed which worked perfectly. This was erected close by the bait which was chained to a tree.
At the start very few Lions were captured, even after dragging the bait through the bush, hopefully attracting the predators.
They were aware of Gus Adendorff’s success in attracting Lions by means of recorded sounds of either Lions calling or of Hyaenas at a carcass.
This was an immediate success.
Their capture rate increased dramatically. The camp would be prepared the bait would be shot and dragged to leave scent trail and then chained to a convenient tree. The tape recordings would be played and soon the resident pride would answer and then pay a visit. The marksman would load his gun with the tranquilizer normally Sernylan and the process would start. Quite often the feeding darted Lion would continue feeding after cuffing a close by neighbour, sometimes they would take off and then return, other times they would disappear and then had to be followed and found. Unfortunately there was no effective antidote for Sernylan and it took up to 12 hours for a tranquilized Lion to recover, during this period they had be under safe surveillance to prevent injury or predation by other animals.
Fortunately Parke-Davis had developed Ketamine. This was a success and now the animals could be darted, weighed, measured, samples taken of, collared if required and then given the antidote within a short while, the animals would recover and live happily ever after.
Something that was always to be kept in mind was that all wild animals carry parasites of which many are harmful to man; e.g. Lions harbour a minute tapeworm which infect man and result in the formation of large cysts known as hydatids which can be fatal to man; exposed body parts were to rinsed in a strong saline solution after handling the animals.
The immobilized animals were after ten minutes still well aware of their surroundings but due to their tranquilized state were not able to react until sufficiently recovered.
The Zebra and Wildebeest population declined even further during 1974 in spite of the termination of the culling of the species.
Over 1200 Lions and 200 Spotted Hyaenas were captured in the Central District by the capture team, many of them more than once. Butch and Lazarus one captured twenty-one Lions their record near the Hlangulene picnic spot.
Over a period of 96 days they captured 488 Lions of which 409 were marked with a branding iron in 158 capture attempts, 80% of sighted Lions were captured.
The minimum Lion population for the Central District was estimated at 708 consisting of about sixty prides of which fifty seven contained marked Lions.
It was not possible to differentiate between pride an nomadic animals.
The sex ratio on average was 2♀ to 1♂ for sub adults the sex ratio was more even while in young cubs the numbers were even.
The prevalence of females is ascribed to high mortality suffered by the males in fights.
The largest pride consisted of 21 Lions, on average there were two adult males in a pride, the range being one to five.
The density of 708 Lions in an area of 5560 km² gave a density of almost thirteen Lions per 100 km² with prey animals having a density of 110 for the area. It can therefore be safely stated that Lions are great contributors to the decline of the Zebra and Wildebeest populations.
How could the problem be solved. Could the Lions be encouraged to alter their diet, by shooting abundant prey and feeding them to the Lions, therefore reducing the need for the Lions to catch their preferred species or to manage the habitat so that the conditions for Zebra and Wildebeest become more favourable, and less favourable for other species e.g. Buffalo.
The Research Department recommended that all the man-made water holes influencing Wildebeest and Zebra in their major summer-grazing areas and in the transitional areas between summer and winter be closed down or made inaccessible to animals as soon as possible.
The reasoning behind this was that summer-grazing areas have developed and attained their status because all water-holes dry up during the drier periods.
Providing permanent water during these periods generally encourages migratory game to remain longer than they normally would have, this in turn results in trampling and over-grazing of the area.
Water-dependant non migratory species like Kudu, Impala, Warthog, Giraffe Waterbuck and others soon colonize the area, attracting more predators due to the permanent food source, making the Wildebeest and Zebra very vulnerable.
It was also suggested that Buffalo culling in the Central District also be reduced, the reason being that Buffalo which prefer tall and medium grass-land would initiate a grazing succession, effectively opening areas for other species which prefer the shorter grass.
Consideration was also given to reduce Elephant culling for the same reason but was not approved due to the damage these huge animals did to the Marula and Knobthorn Acacia in the area.
A burning programme was also suggested which would provide the two species with short grass conditions during the critical times of the year.
The frequency of veld burning was to be increased during the wet years while there was an abundance of fuel in the form of dry grass. This would help suppress the growth and encroachment of woody plants of which many have a negative influence on the Zebra and Wildebeest. Lions and other predators would now also have less cover in which to stalk or await their prey.
A culling policy for Lions and Hyaena was proposed as the numbers had to be reduced and veterinary restrictions associated with foot and mouth disease prohibited the removal of live animal from KRUGER PARK.
All culled animals were weighed, measured, skinned and eviscerated in the field. Skulls were cleaned for later age determination. Detailed tissue samples were taken, internal and external parasites collected and post-mortem examinations carried out by a team of veterinarians and technicians. Almost every scrap of material of scientific value was utilized.
The culling programme was completed in 1975, it was observed that there was a marked increase in the populations of the Zebra foals and Wildebeest calves. From the regions where the two mentioned predator species had been reduced/removed.
The survival of foals in the two not culled areas, the still remained low. Calves showed similar survival rates in all areas, it was now realised that predation by Lions was not focussed selectively on young Wildebeest but on the entire population.
Stomach contents provided meaningful information; Lions mostly had Impala, followed by Wildebeest, Giraffe, Zebra and Warthog.
Spotted Hyaenas were taking mainly Impala, especially in the lambing season, Wildebeest and Zebra remains seemed to have been scavenged from Lion kills. It could be assumed that the Zebra and Wildebeest remains were that of young animals – presumably orphaned ones.
One the Press became aware of the culling of Lions there were many huge placards advertising this, they gave the impression that information was deliberately withheld, after negotiations many journalists were taken out into the bush and after returning from their experience the tune changed.
I participate because I care - CUSTOS NATURAE
Convenor of the AIKONA Group.
No to Hotels in and commercialization of our National Parks.
Done 142 visits to National Parks.
What a wonderful privilege.