Editor of Far north Bulletin, Joe Dreyer, on the back of the bakkie with Mel, the lioness as she is transported back to her encampment.

A couple of lions caused quite the stir the last two weeks when they escaped from their enclosure at the SanWild Wildlife sanctuary in Gravelotte. Like wildfire, reports hit the wire of an escaped lion roaming the grounds of neighbouring farms in that area in search of fresh meat. It went as far as some serious accusations being thrown around by wildlife organization believed to have done so in pursuit of their own ulterior motives. The matter has since been taken up by the SanWild trustees through their legal representative. Bulletin spent a morning on the grounds of the sanctuary with the manager of the grounds, Willie Smit, to find out the truth behind the rumours and accompany him and his group as they recaptured the two tame beasts.

Bossie Bosman, Yke and Rachel Osmers and Annetjie Smit join Mel the lioness, on the back of the cruiser. Photo: Joe Dreyer

“It is actually quite ironic that the two lions in question are our two tamest animals on the grounds,” explained Willie as we walked through the bush. “The lioness is named Mel and the male is Tyson. The two of them arrived here at the sanctuary together and have been sort of a couple ever since then. They are quite inseparable.”

Mel and Tyson share one of the enclosure on the sanctuary grounds and according to the evidence gathered, it appears as though Mel was chasing a porcupine somewhere around the afternoon of 10th of April, which had somehow slipped into the enclosure through the electrified fencing. With the porcupine having shorted out the fence, the lioness managed to pursue the porcupine as it darted underneath the wires to evade the predator’s claws.

“Now, what amazes me is how quickly the rumour that the lion was prowling around the neighbouring farm had spread. We informed our neighbours, the Osmers’ family, of the escape and asked whether they had noticed one of our cats on their property to which they responded with a resounding no. We then spotted Mel hiding in the bushes around the lion enclosure, still on the SanWild property.”

Smit said that they continued to put out food for her in an effort to lure her back into her enclosure, but she would rush in and grab the meat and hide thick bush before they could catch her.

I eventually walked with a piece of meat in my hand against the enclosure fence to lure Tyson into the direction where Mel was hiding. This seemed to work as she then appeared from out of the shrubbery. Problem is that when I put the meat down for her to eat, Tyson grabbed it and ran off!”

Willie Smit and Yke Osmers are assisted by a member of the anti-poaching team, in carrying Tyson back to Mel. Photo: Joe Dreyer

Smit contacted the NSPCA in Tzaneen, the Limpopo Department Economic Development Environment and Tourism and registered a case with the Gravelotte SAPS as per protocol. His team monitored the movement of the lion until the arrival of Bossie Bosman, a veterinarian from Wildlife Vet in Gravelotte, who darted the animal and returned her safely to her enclosure.

Bulletin was at the scene on the 28th of April through the entire operation which was over in less than an hour. Bosman remained on the scene after the recapture to monitor the lions while they recovered from the sedation. (Tyson had to be darted as well, for the rescuers to safely enter the enclosure and return his feline compatriot to her home).

“There was no need for a helicopter and a massive hunt for the animal,” explained Bosman after he administered the antibiotics. “She was never gone and never left the sanctuary. We knew where she was the whole time, we just couldn’t get a clear shot while she was hiding in the thick bush. It took us a while to lure her out into the open long enough for me to get a shot. There was nothing sinister about any of this, it sometimes happens that animals find their way out of their enclosures.”

The SanWild team who recaptured the feuding lion lovers. Photo: Joe Dreyer

None of the animals were hurt in the process and Bosman was satisfied that they both gained their full consciousness before he left the scene. Smit and his team monitored the lions throughout the evening and all was clear by the time of going to print.

“From our side I want to express my thanks and gratitude for the assistance received from Yke Osmers Jnr, Bossie Bosman, Shaun Potgieter of Tzaneen Buurtwag and Van Heerden’s Pharmacy in Tzaneen. It was a great team effort that resulted in the successful recapture of Mel without the need for any drastic measures. For that, we are thankful.”

Bulletin has posted a video of this recapture on our Facebook page and photographs have been published on our Instagram account @Bulletintzn.



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