Karoo Heartland

Sylvester the Lion – the Karoo escape artist

Sylvester the Lion – the Karoo escape artist

The Karoo National Park is famous for many wonderful reasons, however in 2015 the most famous reason would be the grand escape of Sylvester the lion.

The story begins during the night of the 4th June 2015 when a 3-year-old lion escaped from the Karoo National Park, triggering a long and arduous chase lasting 24 days. This event had the nation watching and waiting with bated breath and saw the start of a wild goose chase involving many devoted individuals, sniffer dogs and even a couple of helicopters and a microlight.

The first day’s spoor was picked up and it was gathered that Sylvester had more than likely escaped through a gully on the western side of the Park after rain had caused the fence to lift.

By day 3 the media had run with the story and Sylvester was now a nationwide sensation. By now a select team of SANParks’ trackers, Honorary Rangers and various people had “noses” to the ground and were in hot pursuit of their wanderer. By day 12 the action started to increase as the spoor was picked up along the plateau above the Nuweveld Mountains.

Day 15 saw a Gyrocopter and microlight taking off in the hopes of getting an aerial view of Spook. A dog handler and the state vet from Beaufort West, were also brought on-board at this stage. By day 18 the SAPS (South African Police Services) from Fraserburg had joined the search with everyone putting their heart and soul into this great search.

On the 24th day Sylvester had travelled approximately 371km and had been spotted a mere 4 times in the search, killed 27 sheep, 1 kudu and 1 Nguni cow. The start of the capture began about 20km from the Karoo National Park along the steep cliffs of the Nuweveld Mountains. Sylvester was finally darted by Dave Zimmerman, a SANParks’ veterinarian, from within a helicopter. He was then loaded into a sling while the helicopter hovered dangerously close to the edge of the mountain
with blades no more than 2m from the edge – a risky heart-stopping moment for all.

Sylvester was flown back to the Karoo National Park and released into an enclosure for a wellness check. He survived his walkabout in good health and has been fitted with a tracking collar.

The other male lions within the Karoo National Park were making life very difficult for Sylvester, therefore, provoking his intention to roam. When Sylvester managed to escape from the Park again within a matter of months, fearing for his life SANParks made the decision to move Sylvester.  It was then that Gerard De Lange, conservation manager at Kuzuko Lodge, stepped in and offered Sylvester a home on the reserve bordering the Addo Elephant National Park.


As of the end of May 2016, he arrived at his new 15,000 ha home. Sylvester had no trouble making friends and finding love. He quickly bonded with two lionesses in the reserve and formed a coalition with a younger male lion named Fielies. He grew especially close to his favourite lioness, Angel, and in June 2018 she gave birth to two cubs.

Kuzuko’s game drives have almost daily sightings of Sylvester. The infamous escape artist also kills regularly and has seemingly developed quite the appetite for adult eland bulls.


John Sweet Distin – he who erected the first stock fences in South Africa

John Sweet Distin – he who erected the first stock fences in South Africa

The story of SA’s first stock fence

There is a modest white gravestone in the old cemetery of the Eastern Cape town of Middelburg. This is the resting place of John Sweet Distin Esquire, formerly of Tafelberg Hall, a farm with its own distinctive “table mountain” on the outskirts of Middelburg.

Few speak of Distin anymore, but his name is significant to farming in South Africa – he is widely credited with erecting the first stock fences in our country, pioneering a revolution in livestock management. It’s hard to believe there was a time when no one even knew how to erect the stock fences that are now intrinsic to our national landscape.

Distin’s tale of fortune and fences began with a splash when he arrived in South Africa in 1846. He and his parents were returning to England from New Zealand when their ship docked at Algoa Bay. As they departed, the 20-year-old made up his mind to try his luck in South Africa and jumped overboard. Distin joined the British Army for a while, made a bit of cash fighting in the Frontier Wars, and subsequently established his trading business in the Eastern Cape, which financed his love of farming and the purchase of his farm Tafelberg Hall in the mid-1800s.

So firmly did he advocate the need to divide livestock farms into fenced-off stock camps for veld rejuvenation and animal health that, in the 1860s, he put it before parliament. Defeated there, Distin headed back to his farm and set about fencing his own farm. With no local skills available, Distin had to bring in a man from Australia to do it.

At the time, no one wanted to concede that the vast funds required for fencing were a necessity, until overgrazing and disease forced the government’s hand many years later, resulting in the act regulating the erection and maintenance of dividing fences in 1883.

Distin’s first fence, now a national monument, is still standing taught and strong, tethered to the original sneezewood fencing poles at the foot of the table-shaped mountain.

You can’t miss Tafelberg should you find yourself travelling on the road between Middelberg and Cradock. This was the setting for the tale of a remarkable man of energy and enterprise, alternately described as “a most progressive farmer” and “rather eccentric with vivid blue eyes, a red face and a temper to match”.


Source – https://www.farmersweekly.co.za/rural-insight/the-story-of-sas-first-stock-fence/
By Heather Dugmore |12 April 2010 |


Herbert Hayton Castens – South African only national rugby and cricket captain

Herbert Hayton Castens – South African only national rugby and cricket captain

Did you know that Pearston in the Karoo Heartland is the birthplace of the only person who was captain of both the South African national rugby as well as national cricket team?
Herbert Hayton Castens (23 November 1864 – 18 October 1929) was born in Pearston and went to England where he was educated at Rugby and Oxford, where he studied law and received a Blue at rugby. He also played cricket for Middlesex and South of England. In 1889-90 he played for Western Province, scoring 165 on Christmas Day against Eastern Province.
In 1891 a British rugby side toured South Africa and Castens refereed the first tour match, which was against a combined Cape Town rugby side.  On 30 July, he captained South Africa in their first rugby international, against the British Isles team, played at the Crusader’s Ground in Port Elizabeth which they lost.
In March 1894, the year that the South African Cricket Association was established, Castens captained Western Province to victory in the final of the Currie Cup tournament at Newlands in Cape Town, scoring 61 in an innings victory over Natal. Soon after, a South African cricket tour to England was organised, with Castens appointed as the captain. South Africa played matches against the first-class counties, but no Tests or first-class matches were played.
Castens later moved to Southern Rhodesia, where he worked as an advocate, and was later elected to the National Legislature, and served as secretary to the government for a number of years. He died on 18 October 1929 in Fulham, London, at the age of sixty-four.
Herbert Hayton Castens  

Herbert Hayton Castens and the South African cricket team to England  

Thornsprings’ Slow Cooked Leg of Lamb

Thornsprings’ Slow Cooked Leg of Lamb

When you ask people to think about food from the Karoo, the first thing most would come up with is Karoo lamb. It’s because of this that we share with you a recipe for Karoo Leg of lamb, slow-cooked in Thornsprings pizza oven.

Thornsprings pizza oven Thornsprings pizza oven

Take a Leg of Lamb
20ml Coarse Salt & Pepper
20ml Cajun Spice
100ml Olive Oil

Combine the salt & pepper, cajun and olive oil and rub into the lamb
Sit for 20 minutes

1 Sachet Tomato Puree
20ml Brown Sugar
1 Tin Tomato Onion Relish
2 Cups of Red Wine
1 Cup of Water

Combine tomato puree, tomato onion relish, brown sugar, red wine, and water and pour over the lamb.
Sprinkel with more salt and pepper

2 Large Onions
1 Garlic Clove
Bunch of Fresh Rosemary & Thyme
Place garlic, onions, and fresh herbs on top of lamb
Cover and place in a pre-heated pizza oven until soft and tender – be careful not to have it on top or too close to the coals or the fire – as the oven will generate enough heat.

Serve with loads of fresh thyme – and enjoy 😉

Thornsprings slow roasted leg of lamb Thornsprings slow roasted leg of lamb  Thornsprings slow roasted leg of lamb

The Owl Route 3-day MTB Experience – 31 March – 2 April 2023

The Owl Route 3-day MTB Experience – 31 March – 2 April 2023

The Owl Route is a luxurious glamping escape into the heart of the Karoo. It consists of a 3-day mountain bike experience limited to 80 riders. At The Owl Route, riders will be treated to an all-inclusive riding and culinary experience in the quaint village of Nieu Bethesda. The rolling mountains of the Sneeuberge will remain the backdrop of the 3-day experience. You will be led back to the welcoming arms of Nieu Bethesda and its hand-built, fully functioning water furrows and historic sites.

More information: https://ridetheowlroute.co.za/

Event Date: 31 March – 2 April 2023

E-mail: info@urbangoat.co.za

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