A tribute to a brilliant and brave Karoo lion recovery team, who worked tirelessly to track the missing lion down and return him to Karoo National Park.
I was called to fly to Beaufort West on Tuesday 29 March to assist with the tracking and darting of the escaped lion from Karoo National Park – nicknamed “Sylvester”. When I arrived at the satellite location, the wind strength was on the limits to fly and after one or two attempts to find and dart Sylvester it became too dangerous to continue in the air. It is commendable that the Park Manager and his team of field rangers and tracking staff continued to track Sylvester on the ground. So very brave! It became too dangerous to leave a lion in open territory having already caught a cow.
Two days later in perfect weather I returned to the satellite marked area, but Sylvester continued to hide. I landed the helicopter nearby whilst the tracking team, along with the SANParks veterinarian, proceeded to walk through the Valley (“of Death” – ha ha) in an attempt to chase Sylvester out of the bush. What an event it was when Sylvester suddenly arose and fortunately ran away from his trackers with a loud roar which was audible across the valley.
The vet raced up to the helicopter, but by the time he got to me I had just seen Sylvester disappear around a mountain a mile away. We took off and continued to search from the air for another thirty minutes and were absolutely delighted when he spotted Sylvester racing up the mountainside, where he was immediately darted from the helicopter before he had any chance to disappear.
What an “A Team” consisting of the Park Manager, field rangers, trackers and veterinarian, whom I was proud to air transfer to the different locations on the mountain in order to find Sylvester. The team fearlessly chased Sylvester on foot from his hiding place, and once he was darted, they carried his immobilized 240kg mass to a spot from where he could be safely transported back to the Park.
This was a true act of bravery.
Pilot John Huddlestone