Pride of lions sleep in the road during COVID-19 lockdown in South Africa

A pride of lions slept on an empty road in South Africa's Kruger National Park after tourists stayed away because of the coronavirus pandemic. 

The pack was spotted by park ranger Richard Sowry near the Orpen Rest Camp on the western border of the park, which has been empty since South Africa went into lockdown on March 26. 

"Lying on the road during the daytime is unusual because under normal circumstances there would be traffic and that pushes them into the bush," park spokesman Isaac Phaahla said. While the photos are striking, Phaahla said lockdown hasn't led to many changes in animal behaviour.

"They just occupy places that they would normally shun when there are tourists," he said.

"People should remember that KNP is still a large wild area and in the absence of humans, wildlife is more active."

The oldest lioness in the pride is around 14, which is very old for a lioness, Mr Sowry added.  Normally, the lions would only sleep on the park's roads during colder winter nights, when the tarmac traps heat from the sun. 

However, the rangers do not want the lions to think the roads are safe just because they are hardly being used because of the coronavirus lockdown.  But Mr Sowry said the lions appear to have so far been unaffected by the surrounding panic.

'Normally they would be in the bushes because of the traffic but they are very smart and now they are enjoying the freedom of the park without us,' he said.  The lions preferred the hard tarmac to the soft grass because it had been raining the night before and so the grass was still wet. Media officer Isaac Phaala joked, 'big cats and water don't mix.' 

"We would like to thank the public for their on-going support in line with government's strategy to mitigate the impact of COVID 19, we all have an obligation to flatten the curve," SANParks CEO Fundisile Mketeni said in the statement.

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa initially announced a 21-day lockdown, but in an April 8 announcement, he extended the measures until at least the end of the month.

How is the lockdown affecting the park?

These quiet times have also seen lions, as well as wild dogs, venturing on to a golf course in the park but otherwise, Mr Sowry does not think that the lockdown has had any major effect on the animals' behaviour yet.

To date, South Africa has recorded 54 deaths of people with COVID-19 and registered 3,158 cases of infection, making it the most affected country in Africa.

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