Bringing More Lions and Giraffes to Former Farms

Graaff-Reinet, South Africa

They wanted the big cats to roam the fields once again. Here’s a family project to bring the lion back to cheetah to the corner of the Great Karoo, south Africa.

In the Great Karoo, South Africa’s vast semi-arid savanna, lions and cheetahs once roamed. Later, the area became agricultural fields fenced off and guarded with weapons.

In the 1840s the lion went missing. Then in the 1870s, cheetahs too.

Much of what is now the Samara Private Game Reserve, in the Eastern Cape, is home to livestock. That was until 1997.

Now, after 25 years of being left wild and carefully managed, both cheetahs and lions have not only returned to this part of South Africa, they are thriving.

Samara Private Game Reserve in South Africa’s Eastern Cape has spent 25 years returning farmland to the wild again. They watched the wildlife come back in.

Samara Private Game Reserve (Photo: CNN)

The successful reintroduction of these big cats hinged on the vision of Mark and Sarah Tompkins.

The couple bought 11 farms covering 27,000 hectares over five years with the aim of returning the land to its former glory.

“It’s not a wild area,” explains Isabelle Tompkins, their eldest daughter and business development manager in Samara.

“All animals that migrate are basically ostracized, and of course predators will accompany them,” he added.

To dream big, families must start small. When the land was purchased, most of the land was over-cultivated to make the plots barren.

Samara Private Game ReserveLions at Samara Private Game Reserve, South Africa (Photo: CNN)

The fence was removed along with the livestock. The rebuilding effort started literally at the grassroots level.

Over time, the flora of the region returned. Forests and grasslands, rivers and streams, mountains and valleys stretch across the reserve, providing habitat for herbivores (about 20 species of antelope live in the reserve today) and megaherbivores such as elephants.

With abundant prey, predators can be reintroduced. In 2003, cheetahs were brought back to the area for the first time in 130 years.

From the first three individuals, the female Sibella became a symbol of Samara and success. At the age of two he was subjected to savage attacks by hunting dogs and humans, and was taken to Samara after rescue and rehabilitation operations.

In her new home she gave birth to 20 children and raised all but one to adulthood, before dying of natural causes in 2015.

About 50 cubs have been born in the reserve, and Samara’s population has grown large enough that many have been moved to other reserves and national parks through the Endangered Wildlife Cheetah Trust Metapopulation Project.

Other cheetahs were brought to Samara in return, all in an effort to increase genetic diversity.

Furthermore, the return of the king of the jungle