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It’s early morning when the phone rings. “Male lion loose on the N4 close to Marloth Park”, says the voice.

Dr Ferreira du Plessis, wildlife vet for the Mpumalanga Tourism and Parks Agency (MTPA), jumps in his car, leaving behind his steaming coffee next to the Sunday paper.

A short drive and he arrives at a scene brimming with people who all rose to the call to assist. The South African Police Service, the Mpumalanga Veterinary Services, the Marloth Park community police forum and farmers, all together to ensure the safety of the public and the lion.

A drone flies overhead. The lion is suspected to have made its way onto a farm inaccessible to vehicles. A helicopter from the Kruger National Park arrives.

Du Plessis boards the helicopter with his dart gun. It is not long until they spot the lion in the shade of an acacia tree.

He loads the tranquilliser dart while the helicopter positions itself strategically. He takes aim.

Over the past two years, Du Plessis has darted and returned a number of escaped lions to Kruger, where lion populations are currently healthy following the drought.

Dr Sam Ferreira, large mammal ecologist for the Kruger, says during droughts predators, such as lions, do well because there is abundant and easy to catch prey. In addition, over the past decade, the prey available to lions has increased and so has the lion population.

“We also find that when lots of prey that is easy to catch is available, lionesses are in really good condition. Then, many more male cubs are born. So what happens when these male lions grow up and leave the pride? They seek new territory, and often do not survive,” he says.

When wildlife move out of protected areas and come in contact with the property of people or people themselves it can impact upon surrounding communities and livelihoods.

Lion Thete, one of 190 cattle farmers in his community, Welverdiend, close to the Kruger, has seen and felt the impacts of animals breaking through the fence.

“Every year we lose livestock to hyenas and other animals. I was born here. I will die here. In my lifetime it is getting worse,” he says.

Glenn Phillips, the managing executive for Kruger, acknowledges that human wildlife conflict is a major challenge for the park and recognises that living next to a protected area comes at a cost.

He says the majority of the Western and Southern Boundary fence around the Kruger “is a state veterinary-owned fence meant to keep buffalo in to avoid the spreading of disease such as foot and mouth disease to cattle. It is not meant or designed to keep all types of animals in or even people out.

“We work closely with the state veterinary services to maintain the fence around the park, but with over 1000km of fence line that crosses some very wide rivers and many tributaries, it is impossible to have the entire fence up 100% at all times.”

Recent community engagement workshops by the Kruger to update its park management plan listed human wildlife conflict as a major concern for affected communities.

However, Dr Marisa Coetzee, head of park planning for the Kruger, sees every crisis as an opportunity.

“In response, we developed a human wildlife conflict programme, which is being implemented in collaboration with the MTPA and the Limpopo Economic Development, Environment and Tourism, who are the legally mandated entities to deal with human wildlife conflict, together with state veterinary services."

By afternoon, the lion is back in the park and Du Plessis reading his paper.

Rall works for Khetha, a WWF South Africa and USAID programme aimed at reducing the impacts of the illegal wildlife trade on iconic species, such as elephants and rhinos, in the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Conservation Area.