21 May 2015
The famous three lion cubs at Addo Elephant National Park have started the next step towards their rehabilitation back into the wild.
Towards the end of 2014, the cubs were orphaned when their mother, Gina, died. Now nine months old, the male and two females have been moved from a holding boma in the park’s main game viewing area to a much larger, 200ha camp within the Kuzuko contractual area in the north of the park, about 100 kilometres away by road.
Now estimated to weigh about 80kg each, Shireen, Lara and Robin have the freedom to explore and start hunting small animals for themselves. “They will be closely monitored by Kuzuko management on a daily basis as it may be necessary to supplement their diet until such time that they are able to hunt on their own,” says Addo’s conservation manager, John Adendorff.
“It is estimated that they could spend between one and two years in the camp before being released into the larger Kuzuko section.”
The trio became a national news item in December 2014 when the park made a desperate plea for visitors to report any sightings of them after Gina died of a suspected snake bite. They were seen and photographed by a guest in mid- December – looking exceptionally thin and withered before not being sighted again for six weeks.
Posted on Facebook, the photographs garnered widespread interest and concern, and people visited the park specifically to look for them and offer their services in the search. Local and national print and broadcast media also closely followed the story, appealing to visitors and prospective visitors to report any sightings to the park’s conservation staff.
It was believed that in the six weeks or so that they weren’t seen, they were initially cared for by another female, Josie, which later had a litter of her own. They somehow survived on their own after Josie had its cubs.
Long after park staff had given up hope after finding them alive following aerial searches, ranger patrols, follow-ups on numerous leads and eventually calling off the search, a guide from one of the concessions said he may have spotted them on 10 January.
Although sceptical, they still went out and found the three – albeit severely malnourished and lethargic. News of their survival travelled fast, as good news does, and turned what was a bleak start to the new year into one with renewed hope.
The cubs were darted and placed in a boma where they received immediate medical attention. They have spent the past four months here, being regularly fed and bulking up for the next leg of their adventure, which now starts at Kuzuko.