With habitat loss, human predator conflicts and trophy hunting on the rise it is ever more important to look at who is protecting African Lions.
The current African lion population is estimated to be roughly 30 thousand; when compared to the 450 thousand that roamed less than a century ago (according to Dereck Joubert) it is obvious that conservation work must be implemented in order to save this iconic African predator.
Keep ’em save in the wild…
Since it is cheaper and more effective to protect lions now rather than reintroduce them after they are locally extinct, it is imperative that wild lion populations are protected (as does Marnus and his team with Walking For Lions). Negative human-lion interaction, habitat restoration and public interest in lion conservation must be addressed in order to secure the future of African wildlife.
One of the most significant issues surrounding lion endangerment is the execution carried out by livestock herders in retaliation for property damage. Lions are often poisoned, speared or shot because farmers and herders view them as a threat to their livelihood. As humans continue to encroach on lion habitats animosity between human and lion continues to rise. To help alleviate this issue, human-lion interaction must be limited. Currently, there are many groups that work to inhibit lions from roaming near human inhabited land.
Living with Lions is a nonprofit that works in the unprotected areas of Kenya and coordinates with Maasai warriors to track lions and warn herders. This effort works to protect livestock and decrease conflict by implementing measures that reduce human-lion conflict. Living with Lions is also in the process of developing technology that will electronically warn herders when lions are approaching. By preventing conflict, less lions will be killed in acts of retribution or in preventative measures to preserve livestock. Another measure that will supplement livestock protection is the creation of cattle enclosures made of fast-growing, tough trees. The Living Boma project allows cattle to be protected through the use of durable, long standing protective enclosures. Thus, additional preventative and protective measures will decrease lion deaths.
The Wildlife Conservation Society also works with herders to help protect livestock. GPS collars track the lions’ range which is then used to create a map that will tell herders which places to avoid due to high concentrations of lions. WCS also trains local leaders in conservation which will allow the governments of these areas to be more tolerant and educated in lion conservation.
Another avenue in lion conservation that some experts are calling for involves the fencing off of lion strongholds. This will further inhibit lion-herder interaction and it will become more difficult for poachers to infiltrate lion inhabited areas. It is intended that this will protect existing lion populations while simultaneously allowing populations to grow in safe conditions. Unfortunately, reserves alone will not guarantee the lion’s survival. Humans continually encroach on land that has been reserved for lion preservation, which increases conflict. Instead of keeping lions in specific areas, another vision in lion protection is to create corridors between lion strongholds that will allow secure voyage between vital lion communities.
Education is another key aspect in conservation. Groups all over Africa, like Wildlife Conservation Society work to cultivate a grassroots system of local supporters of lion conservation by educating the public in order to create an understanding and respect of lions. Groups like this also work in coordination with the local governments in order to initiate change with direct effect on certain areas.
Ecotourism is another facet in conservation that will fund the future of the lion species. Ecotourism alone brings roughly 80 million dollars to Africa. Many experts believe that much of this money should be used to further conservation efforts. African mammal tourism is especially important because tourists are often willing to pay large sums of money to see lions in the wild. This could potentially lead to the long term protection of the species. If the money can be used to help communities then the locals will have an incentive to protect lions in order to secure their own livelihood.
Curbing trophy and canned hunting is crucial to the survival of wild lions. Chris Mercer with the Campaign Against Canned Hunting spearheads this effort. Reportedly lion breeders ‘steal’ wild lions to preserve a healthier gene pool amongst their captive lions bred for cub petting and trophy hunting.
In summation, there are many avenues that may be taken in order to preserve African lions. Worldwide and African organizations work to tackle the problems through the use of education, technology and grassroots following. The main issues that must be fixed to protect wild lions are habitat rehabilitation, human-wildlife-conflicts, canned hunting, lack of education and political will. Although many issues plague African lion conservation, it is apparent that with proper action the lion species will survive and hopefully thrive in the future.
Contributed by Nikela Volunteer Abigail Saadeh
Sadly due to circumstances beyond his control Marnus had to withdraw for a season.