The country’s most talked about lion, Sylvester, who twice escaped and went wandering about the Karoo, has since moved to a new home and started a family. Wild checks in on his new life in Addo Elephant National Park. By Gaynor Siljeur
South Africa was first introduced to Sylvester the lion when he escaped Karoo National Park in June 2015. For three weeks and more than 300km, this big cat went gallivanting around the Karoo – and straight into our hearts.
After his inevitable capture, Sylvester was fitted with a satellite collar. This alerted rangers when he escaped the park yet again in March 2016. Luckily the cat with the itchy feet was recaptured three days later. To stop Sylvester from going walkabout a third time, SANParks decided to translocate him and in May 2016 he arrived in Kuzuko, a private contractual area in Addo Elephant National Park.
Father, friend and partner
In his new 15,000 ha home Sylvester had no trouble making friends and finding love. He quickly bonded with two lionesses in the reserve and formed a coalition with a younger male lion named Fielies. He grew especially close to his favourite lioness, Angel, and in June 2018 she gave birth to two cubs.
Although Sylvester and Fielies have the run of the reserve, they are anything but bored, according to Gerhard de Lange, general manager of Kuzuko. “As there are two older males on Kuzuko’s western fence-line, Sylvester’s coalition is stimulated. They patrol up and down this western boundary for a couple of days a week, then they go hunt, check on the females and their cubs, and then go back to the fence again. By doing this, they keep the older males at bay,” Gerhard explained.
Asked about Sylvester’s behaviour with the cubs, Gerhard says: “Like any other male lion who has sired cubs, he accepts them. He also accepts the cubs of his coalition partner.”
There have been daily sightings of Sylvester where he is usually spotted with Angel. The infamous escape artist also kills regularly and has seemingly developed quite the appetite for adult eland bulls.
Social behaviour of lions
In an article in the upcoming issue of Wild, former game ranger Mitch Reardon explores the social behaviour of lions in Addo Elephant National Park. Research is showing that the big cats behave differently in smaller parks than in bigger protected areas such as the Kruger National Park.
Orla McEvoy, who studied lion social dynamic in 33 small South African reserves for her PhD in zoology, found that low lion densities changed the ways the felines interacted. A single pride removes the stress from unknown, competitive lions, with the result that females have less motivation to group together or look for male guardians.
In Addo adult males at similar stages of development tend to form lifelong coalitions of two, travelling and hunting together, as is demonstrated by the bond between Sylvester and Fielies.
What does this mean for the cubs and the way the males relate to the lionesses? Read more in the autumn issue of Wild, available in March 2019.
Also read: Why did the lioness kill the baboon?