Cape Town – Armed wildlife rangers and police scoured farmland around a small town in Mpumalanga on Tuesday for five lions that escaped from the country's main national park.
The animals broke free from the Kruger park on Monday morning close to Komatipoort, a community of about 5 000 people.
"We believe it is five lions, and they are in the sugar cane fields near the border with Mozambique," said park spokesperson Reynold Thakuli.
Trackers will attempt to recapture them using tranquiliser guns. The area around Kruger – one of the country's main tourist attractions contains villages and farms that also raise cattle, putting livestock as well as people at risk of attack.
In 2015, a lion named Sylvester crawled under an electric fence at another park and went on a three-week sheep-killing spree before he was found by rangers taking a nap.
The cat was earlier this year released back into wild from a 200-hectare (about 2 squared kilometres) holding enclosure.
South Africa is virtually the only African country that contains its big, dangerous wildlife in fenced reserves.
In other African states, whose governments do not have the resources for fencing or capture operations, lions and other alpha animals frequently stray outside the boundaries of protected areas.
Mpumalanga police spokesperson Brigadier Leonard Hlathi warned pedestrians and motorists to keep alert for the roaming lions.
After escaping on Monday morning, it is reported that the lions already tried to catch cattle near the highway on Monday evening.
Despite the wild animals posing a threat to people, Twitter could not resist making light of the situation.
Did these lions hold a group discussion and came up with a strategy on how to escape?Five is just too much man.😂 #LionsEscape— Broken Crayon ✏ (@TholangMatsoso1) May 9, 2017
Why am I reminded of Madagascar... #LionsEscape— Ms Shedile (@ShedzR) May 9, 2017
#LionsEscape It's Karma in form of animalia. Hope they get located in my miserable exs' lives and put bitches out of their miseries.— Keep Out! (@freakthegenie) May 9, 2017
Tweeps also (hopefully playfully) said they will use it as an excuse to not go anywhere...including work.
Boss: why you not at work?
— The invisible man (@invisibleman_17) May 9, 2017
Others also expressed concern and did not see the humour in the roaming lions.
#LionsEscape Dear God, please protect the kids walking to school & back home as well as the people in the rural communities.🙏— Zoe Moloi (@Mol_Zoe) May 9, 2017
The way tweeps turn everything in to a joke though😕👐#LionsEscape— #HireAGraduate👈 (@MaftaneA) May 9, 2017
I'm in Mpumalanga right now & I'm so scared to leave the house because of this #LionsEscape 😢😢
— RaisedInAfrica (@paballo_patsa) May 9, 2017
IOL and Reuters