Master Tracker Joins Search for Lion on the Loose in the Great Karoo

It doesn’t rain much around Beaufort West, but when it does it often comes in the form of fast-rushing water. And so the recent rains in the Karoo, it seems, made a hole in part of the fence that keeps all the critters in the Karoo National Park in. And that’s how a 3-year-old resident lion is said to have escaped westwards and onto a neighbouring farm…

The Karoo National Park outside Beaufort West.
The Karoo National Park outside Beaufort West. Photo: Chris Marais

The farmer found lion tracks on his property sometime on Friday, 5 June 2015. Lion bait was set for the predator – and ignored.

Instead, the lion celebrated his new-found freedom by taking out no fewer than eight of the farmer’s sheep.

That escaped lion is wandering around here – somewhere.
That escaped lion is wandering around here – somewhere.

By yesterday – Thursday, June 11 – a squad of trackers and a helicopter were combing the area in a massive search for the escaped cat, which has already moved more than 20km from the park in the general direction of Fraserburg.


If you know that area, you’ll also know that it’s perfect country for a lion to hide in. The land is tawny, rocky and, in many parts, difficult to access.

The now-extinct Cape Lion that once roamed between Leeu-Gamka and Beaufort West looked something like this gorgeous fellow.
The now-extinct Cape Lion that once roamed between Leeu-Gamka and Beaufort West looked something like this gorgeous fellow.

The escaped lion has become a social media hit, trending very high on Twitter and featuring in regular updates on the Karoo National Park’s Facebook page.

There were once many lions in the Karoo, home of the Ancient Cape Lion. The nearby village of Leeu Gamka (both words in its name mean ‘lion’) seems to have been Predator Central, with explorers often mentioning attacks or having had to build bonfires to fend off their unwanted feline attentions.

The Master Tracker Steps In

Pokkie Benadie – master-tracker leading the search for the escaped lion.
Pokkie Benadie – master-tracker leading the search for the escaped lion.

Leading the current search is master-tracker Karel “Pokkie” Benadie, who grew up on Stolshoek Farm near Beaufort West.

The Karoo is a tough place to learn tracking. The sandstone, ironstone and clay soils don’t easily give up the secrets of those creatures that walk over them.

But Pokkie always had a feel for it, a natural talent. When Stolshoek farm was later joined to the Karoo National Park, Pokkie began working for SANParks.

He honed his skills by following black rhino through the dense bush, inputting information on what they ate and did on a handheld Cybertracker, a programme invented by tracking legend Louis Liebenberg.

Becoming a master tracker takes decades, and Pokkie is now one of fewer than a dozen such people in the country. He also heads up training and mentoring at the Tracker Academy on Samara Private Game Reserve near Graaff-Reinet. (See below.)

Pokkie Benadie on a Tracker Academy mission at Samara Private Game Reserve outside Graaff-Reinet.
Pokkie Benadie on a Tracker Academy mission at Samara Private Game Reserve outside Graaff-Reinet.

Until the lost lion is located, farmworkers have been urged to stay home for their own safety.

Text and Pics by Chris Marais

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