A lion has been spotted in the Zinave National Park, in the southern province of Inhambane, for the first time in several decades, according to a press release from the South African-based Peace Parks Foundation.
The Foundation revealed that a camera trap has recently captured an image of a male lion, which it states was drawn to the prey-rich habitat of the 18,600-hectare sanctuary that has been established within the park.
For the Foundation, this is evidence of the "remarkable restoration of this once-silent wilderness" with "the establishment of healthy ecosystems that are naturally attracting Africa's top predator".
Over the last decade, the park has undergone intensive restoration and rewilding and has seen over 2,300 game animals reintroduced into the sanctuary including 200 elephants. In addition, four spotted hyenas and two leopards were recently relocated to the park.
This relocation programme was accelerated following the signing in 2015 a 20-year co-management agreement between Mozambique's National Administration of Conservation Areas (ANAC) and the Peace Parks Foundation. The eventual goal is to rewild the entire 408,000-hectare park and to develop eco-tourism to cover the operating costs.
Zinave National Park forms part of the Greater Limpopo Transfrontier Conservation Area, which also includes Banhine and Limpopo national parks in Mozambique, Kruger National Park in South Africa, Gonarezhou National Park in Zimbabwe and various other state and privately-owned conservation areas across the three countries.
According to the chief executive of the Peace Parks Foundation, Werner Myburgh, the appearance of lions in Zinave provides evidence that the goals of setting up the Greater Limpopo Transfrontier Conservation Area are being met. He said, "one of the stated objectives was to enhance eco-system integrity and natural ecological processes and remove artificial barriers impeding the natural movement of wildlife".
Myburgh added, "with the continued rewilding and steady development of the three national parks in the Mozambique component, it was only a matter of time for wildlife to start moving naturally between these protected areas, but to see this happening now in reality, is a momentous conservation milestone".
For ANAC's Maria Cidalia Mahumane, "this is an extremely exciting moment for Zinave and for conservation in Mozambique as a whole. The extensive efforts that ANAC and the Peace Parks Foundation have directed into restoring and managing the park have led to some incredible outcomes, and the presence of lions is another clear indicator of the ecological health of Zinave".
The Peace Parks Foundation's project manager Bernard van Lente explained that "destabilisation and lack of prey in an ecosystem are the main reasons for the absence of large carnivores in an area. Since the park started animal reintroductions, and because of successful protection efforts, the game numbers have grown rapidly and the eco-system has stabilised sufficiently to host apex predators once more".
He added, "with the abundant prey and safe environment available, the fact that the park is able to sustain large carnivores is very encouraging, and it will not be too surprising if more lions, leopard, wild dog and cheetah start to make sporadic appearances, over and above the carnivores that are set to be reintroduced into the park over the coming years".
The Peace Parks Foundation pointed out that over the last century lions have disappeared from 95 per cent of their historic range and lamented "over 200,000 lions once roamed across Africa. Now, only an estimated 23,000 to 39,000 remain, due to habitat destruction, human-wildlife conflict, poaching and poisoning".