Limpopo province's game farmer of the year, Piet Potgieter, is planning to move his game farming operation to the Free State, after being plagued by poachers and rogue lions. For months now, lions have been coming onto his game farm and making a meal of impala and warthog, as well as a valuable trophy male waterbuck, but the latest kill on March 22 of a prize eland cow has truly outraged the farmer.
"The eland was valued at at least R25,000 and was due to calve in about six weeks." Two years ago Potgieter sold eland calves from his rare and endangered species breeding project for a record price of R17,250 at a prestige sale. He now fears for the lives of the other animals he is breeding, including roan, sable and tsessebe.
Potgieter believes that several lions are involved in the raids on his game, but nature conservation official Burt Howard thinks that there is only one lion, which is moving over five or six farms in the area. The animal is very sly and has evaded several trapping attempts. Howard says the lion roams between the Olifants River, the escarpment and the Blyde River. Tracking is extremely difficult in the area, due to the rocky terrain as well as the recent good rains. The spoor of a different lion was found on another of Potgieter's farms three days later.
This farm is over 13km from the other farm, and within 10km of Hoedspruit town. As yet, the lion has done no damage. After finding the dead eland, a search was mounted for the first lion, but the spoor trail could not be followed. Nature conservation hired a helicopter, which carried out a two-hour search, but no trace of the lion could be found. The lion has also killed cattle belonging to communal farmers.
Potgieter says that the only good point behind the lion's presence is that is seems to be giving poachers in the area pause for thought before coming onto his land. He says that he is constantly plagued by poachers who hunt with packs of dogs, and he suspects that there are four different groups coming onto his farm.
He says that they target one particular stretch of fenceline for entry, and bring in about five to eight dogs at a time. Last year he spent a lot of money trying to keep the poachers out, but "it's fighting a losing battle." He says that over the next couple of years he will move his breeding programme to a farm in the Free State, rather than trying to continue battling with poachers and problem animals.
In the meantime, he is so fed up that he is hoping to get a permit to shoot the lion as a problem animal. He says that this is not his first choice, but with the new norms and standards on the keeping of large predators there are few options left for a problem lion's future. In the past, Potgieter has caught problem leopards that were killing his eland calves. The leopards were relocated to conservation areas in the Cape.