Perhaps the five lions that escaped from the Kruger National Park were conducting a feasibility study on a possible reclamation of more land to expand their kingdom, says the writer. File picture: Muhammad Hamed/Reuters
The Kruger is a cardinal tourist attraction. When such a crucial job creator as tourism faces the growing threat of stray animals, we should be up in arms, says Victor Kgomoeswana.

"My people, when you come across those stray lions, please be careful. Those are not as friendly as your cats and dogs. Do not attempt to take selfies with them lions... They are not as friendly as Simba from Lion King’. This 08h41 news flash, by serial Facebooker Collin Macheke, alerted me to the story of five lions that had just escaped from the Kruger National Park - about 20000 square kilometres of land.

The post was characteristically funny, but the message worrying. Lions do not escape from what probably feels like a concentration camp to fraternise with humans.

As far as the lions and fellow Kruger captives are concerned, we possibly look like selfish two-legged animals who bullied them from the wild, where they roamed free.

Who knows, maybe this renewed resolve to “take back our land” is not the preserve of Andile Mngxitama’s Black First-Land First and Juju’s EFF. Perhaps these five cats had escaped not only to hunt or go clubbing in real wild style.

Maybe they were conducting a feasibility study on a possible reclamation of more land to expand their kingdom. These quadrupeds most likely believe, as we know, that they would win an all-out battle against us - bipeds, if we did not have nuclear warheads. Remember, as in Orwell’s Animal Farm, they would have birds in their camp, because those are bipeds who are considered the good guys in their world.

Why does Africa’s premier nature reserve continuously experience such break-outs, though?

“Details are sketchy”, but these lions might have “been chased away by a dominant”, according to SANParks’ Rey Thakhuli as quoted in an EWN report. “Sketchy” is what I would look like, if I attempted a selfie with one of them.

While some of our lions keep running away from the Kruger, others found a home in other countries, like Rwanda.

Rwanda’s tiny Akagera National Park, about 5 percent of our glorious Kruger in size, now boasts what we always distinguished our appeal to tourists.

They accomplished this, partly, thanks to the seven lions they got from us in 2015.

I am green with envy; because they now have what we have, yet we do not have their gorillas, for which they charge each visitor $1000.

Tourism is key to South Africa. It had created 712000 jobs versus 462000 in mining, according to 2015 numbers by Statistics SA.

The Kruger is a cardinal tourist attraction.

When such a crucial job creator as tourism faces the growing threat of stray animals, we should be up in arms; starting with establishing the cause of the problem.

Speaking for SANParks, William Mabasa shared with me the many reasons lions can escape.

Flooding after rainfall is one culprit, he said.

Then there are the elephants; they are inclined to bulldoze their way through obstacles.

But, residents around the park and poachers tend to punch holes in the fence as well.

Without all these factors, however, I found that the fence is vulnerable as it is. A 2011 study to evaluate the cordon fence, which was published in the journal Elsevier, counted over 250 watercourses along the entire perimeter fence of the Kruger.

These are rivers and streams flowing in and out of the park; which are effectively holes.

Incidentally, when I went to see the gorillas in northern Rwanda in 2013, there was no electric fence around them. The people of Musanze, who live and grow Pyrethrum at the foot of the hills where their mountain gorillas are, provide impervious security.

This is because they have a shared sense of ownership.

At the time the government was investing 15 percent of the tourism receipts to develop the community.

They also earned occasional tips as porters for those trekking up the mountain in marshy conditions.

Our management of nature reserves ought to continue the quest to foster a similar sense of local pride in the Kruger, among others. Otherwise, look out - here comes more feline fugitives, and they are not characters in the Lion King!

* Kgomoeswana is author of Africa is Open for Business; a media commentator and public speaker on African business affairs, and a weekly columnist for African Independent - Twitter Handle: @VictorAfrica

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

The Sunday Independent