Today, Samara became a Big 5 Reserve as lions were added to the elephant, buffalo, black rhino and leopard already present in this magnificent Great Karoo reserve.
The history of the area
Over one hundred and eighty years ago the Cape Lion, a magnificent black maned beast roamed the mountains and plains of the Great Karoo. Over time these lion were wiped out by hunters, but finally their relatives are being welcomed back to Samara Private Game Reserve near Graaff-Reinet.
The plight of lions in southern Africa
There is a serious need for conservation initiatives targeting lions as the species has dwindled by 43% in the past 20 years. In South Africa, there are just 3 000 wild lions left.
According to historical records, the last wild lion seen in the Samara area was in 1840.
The biggest threat is posed by the ‘canned lion’ industry where cubs are bred in captivity. These lions have no conservation value. The cubs are generally hand-reared for the trophy hunting industry, which amounts to target shooting in a small enclosure.
This emphasises the need to create spatially separate groups that allow for translocations to ensure genetic diversity, and to establish founder populations in areas where lions once thrived but have since been wiped out.
Other threats include conflict with humans, depletion of their prey base due to habitat loss and the bush meat trade, and the illegal trade in lion bones for traditional medicine in the Far East.
A Great Karoo Ecosystem is restored
The presence of lion on the reserve will help to restore a balanced and thriving ecosystem and is a great step for the project to return the Karoo to its natural state of astounding biodiversity.
The founder pride consists of one three year old male and one unrelated female of two and half years old from Kwandwe Game Reserve near Grahamstown. The lions are being kept in a large enclosure to adjust to their new surroundings and they will be released to roam freely on the 70 000 hectare reserve on 13th December 2018. A second lioness will be introduced to Samara in a few months’ time.
The lions’ movement, feeding and breeding patterns will be monitored through satellite technology and by researchers on the ground.
“We are delighted to be bringing lions back to our region this year.
Their reintroduction gives us the opportunity to study what happens when a top predator returns to an ecosystem.
Besides that, we can’t wait to hear their roars echoing through our valleys.”
– SARAH TOMPKINS, FOUNDER, SAMARA PRIVATE GAME RESERVE
Conservation in action
The vision of Samara founders Mark and Sarah Tompkins to transform the area into a fully-restored and functional Great Karoo ecosystem is becoming a reality. Over the last 21 years the 11 livestock farms that make up Samara have been allowed to rest and recover from years of overgrazing. The indigenous vegetation has returned, alien vegetation has been removed and slowly the animals have been reintroduced to the area, now one of the world’s 36 biodiversity hotspots.
“Antelope species have been re-introduced and the first wild cheetah made its return to the area after 130 years in 2004. More recently, the re-introduction of elephants, including two large bulls, has restored megaherbivore ecosystem processes.” says Sarah.
The new lion population means that the ecosystem has an apex predator, and brings Samara closer to achieving its ultimate goal of establishing a series of ecological corridors and public-private partnerships. This will see the region become South Africa’s third largest protected area.
Sarah notes that the introduction of lions has positive implications for the community at large. It improves the reserve’s ability to contribute to sustainable responsible eco-tourism in the area, which in turn leads to job creation. Added to this, it generates additional skills development opportunities at the SA College for Tourism Tracker Academy based at Samara, which trains 16 young individuals per year in the art of tracking.
“This is a monumental moment; not just for us at Samara, but also for the greater South African conservation community,” Sarah concludes.