Probably predators like lions biggest threat to survival, human-wildlife conflict rages across Africa like a bush fire out of control.
The reality behind human-wildlife conflict
It is a problem that is far more complex than people think and goes way beyond simply keeping livestock safe or moving them further away from a predator’s habitat. Culture, poverty, myths, ignorance and politics have created layers of problems to address in human-wildlife conflict. What is human-wildlife conflict?
When lions and humans exist in close proximity, it creates an acute discord between lions looking for prey and villagers using cattle and the land to survive. Viewed as vermin, lions are often trapped, shot or poisoned by villagers to prevent cattle attacks. It takes few cattle to represent an essential livelihood – losing one animal can mean losing a precious income and a precious food source. Whilst the government in some countries will compensate a farmer that loses one of their herd to a lion, it won’t offer any money if other predators do.
Lions have long-since been a prominent icon of the African savannahs. With their majestic looks and hirsute manes, they once dominated the lands they surveyed. Lions now battle a major threat: habitat loss and fragmentation (they are surviving in disjointed areas that are a fraction of the size of land they evolved in) is one of the biggest threats.
450,000 lions have been lost in Africa in the last 50 years, leaving around 20,000 in the wild threatened by extinction. This frightening statistic impacts the fragile African ecosystems where predators support the delicate biodiversity. By preying on ungulates such as zebras and antelopes, numbers are controlled, thus influencing the condition of grasslands and forests. Preying lions also benefit the people who use the natural resources found in African environments.
80 % on their habitat has been lost to human settlement and what’s left now is so fragmented and small that lions have little choice but to stray out of their territory into encroaching villages and cattle posts. Thus human-wildlife conflict is initiated.
How do we tackle these problems to prevent the lion becoming another tragic statistic in the long line of species close to extinction?
Breaking the trends
One solution to this problem is to stop cattle farming. However, agriculture is not always an option as land is not available to people. Many people in sub-Saharan Africa have to rely on the land to survive and farming is the only option for most.
Then there is a strong culture to consider. Cattle are given as presents for weddings or used for food – they are serious traditions and farmers are not willing to give them up. Even those working in the cities, still have cattle somewhere. These are deep-rooted traditions that won’t be simply broken.
Changing habits and traditions is difficult and persuading farmers to build bomas to protect their farms isn’t easy – it costs money and goes against their traditions to build fencing to keep their cattle confined.
But, as humans it is us who must be willing to change. With traditions to break, laws to change, officials to mobilise and bottom line, the willingness to live amongst the lions, it won’t be easy or quick. So, what can we do in the interim?
The Lion King
Thankfully, there is a solution to human-wildlife conflict and one man really seems to have ‘found the light’ so to speak.
Marnus Roodbol and his non-profit organisation, Walking For Lions, are doing amazing work to create global awareness of the threats facing lions in Africa. They are one of few organisations seeking to prevent human-lion conflicts that lead to retaliatory killings, making their work all the more crucial for protecting lions.
For three years, Marnus worked in Botswana successfully saving lions. He studied and worked with farmers to understand their struggles of losing livestock to predators. He monitored the behaviour of predators to understand when and why they attack cattle posts. After his studies, he discovered a near-perfect solution in human-wildlife conflict.
[Update February 2019: Today Marnus has expanded his reach working on a much larger scale in Namibia.]
Illuminating the future
Lights are a simple way to prevent conflict. Lions appear to associate lights with humans walking about with torches and steer clear of them. By lighting the perimeter of a Kraal, or Boma and adding sirens, the combination deters lions from entering to avoid conflict. Lions are safe from any retributory killings from humans. Humans are safe to use the natural resources available.
Looking long term
Lions are not idiots. Long-term, lights may cease being a viable deterrent so what else can we do? Marnus is all about long-term solutions. He sees the value of monitoring, documenting and studying lion behaviour (and human) in order to understand both on a deeper level. He believes looking holistically at what is sustainable over time is crucial. This doesn’t just regard lions; this could also be applied to other endangered predators such as cheetah, hyenas and leopards.
It is essential to safeguard lions not just for ourselves but for future generations. As they study, monitor and support those remaining in Africa, Walking For Lions aims to prevent their extinction. By supporting Marnus’ work, we can prevent further poisonings and shootings. Just as importantly, we can allay the fears of those living close to lions as well.
Helping is easy.
100% of your charitable donation goes to help Marnus now working in Namibia.
Nikela is about helping people saving wildlife, nature and entire ecosystems.