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A lion yawns at a nature reserve on the outskirsts of Pretoria June 29, 2010. A lion escaped from Karoo National Park in South Africa on Friday.

Enrique Marcarian/Reuters

Trackers on foot and helicopter were searching for a lion after it escaped from a national park in a remote, arid region of South Africa, authorities said.

After a farmer reported that he'd found lion tracks on his land, the park's trackers, who belong to the indigenous San group, began following the tracks with the farmer, South African National Parks said in a statement. A helicopter being used for a wildlife census also joined the search. The carcass of a gemsbok, a large antelope, was placed to lure the lion but it didn't appear.

The 3-year-old male lion apparently left Karoo National Park on Friday through a rain-eroded hole under a fence and disappeared into "terrain (that) is mountainous, with many river valleys, thus making tracking difficult," the park service said.

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Several private trackers joined the search on Wednesday, said Alex van den Heever, co-founder of Tracker Academy, which is participating.

"The lion is covering vast areas," van den Heever said. Tracks were seen 21 kilometres (13 miles) from the park.

One tracking dog named Bullet is also being used, a park official said.

The area, in the Karoo semi-desert, is sparsely populated. Beaufort West, on the park's edge, has some 34,000 inhabitants.

"Members of the public who may see the lion or any signs of it are requested not to confront it and to contact" a parks official, the SANP statement said.

If trackers find the lion, a veterinarian will dart it with a tranquilizer. Parks staff will return the lion to the park where it will be fitted with a satellite tracking collar, said park service spokeswoman Fayrouch Ludick.

While lion escapes are rare in South Africa, in Kenya the growing human population is settling in areas used by the lions' prey, said Paul Udoto, a spokesman for the Kenya Wildlife Service.

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Kenya Wildlife Service Deputy Director and Head of Species Patrick Omondi said that because Kenya has an open park system, the lions follow their prey to areas where people have settled, killing livestock and sometimes people.

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