JOHANNESBURG — The lion has no name, but images of his painful plight have ricocheted across social media.
The young male appears to be emaciated and near death, toppled over on the side of a road with a poacher’s noose wrapped tightly around his neck.
So tourists at South Africa’s Kruger National Park stepped up to help save him.
Social media was “crucial to this operation,” said Glenn Phillips, managing executive of Kruger National Park.
Even though a tourist had already reported the wounded lion to officials Saturday — before the images spread rapidly online — social media played a key role in helping find it, Phillips said.
“Because people were able to communicate and post pictures on Facebook, we were immediately able to get a sense of the condition of the animal for our vets, and we were also able to get markers of where the lion was last seen,” Phillips said.
“There’s a perception that it’s so easy to find these animals and that’s not true.”
Especially not at a park that is roughly the size of Israel.
Phillips said searchers scoured the park all day Sunday, to no avail. And the lion apparently slipped back into the park’s extensive bushes Monday.
The lion was eventually found Tuesday, walking through a crocodile-infested river. He was tranquilized by a dart shot from a helicopter.
While the pictures look gruesome, the lion was not severely wounded, Phillips said.
“What the vets found was that the skin on the surface was damaged and broken, but the actual tissue below was intact,” he said. “So the wound looked a lot worse than it actually was.”
Rescuers managed to remove the snare — a trap with a noose that gets tighter as it gets pulled.
The lion was “very lucky to break away,” Phillips said. “Usually the harder the animal struggles, the tighter the snare becomes.”
A ‘brutal way of killing’
But the danger of snares continues to be a major problem at the park.
“It is a totally indiscriminate and brutal way of killing,” Phillips said.
Poachers are another difficult issue there, he said.
“It’s a 1,400-kilometer boundary which we manage all the time with 700 rangers — rangers that now must mainly focus on anti-poaching operations,” he said, adding that those efforts focus largely on protecting the park’s highly prized rhino population.