Isn’t the Lion the King of the Jungle? So, why is protecting lions in Southern Africa even an issue. For decades lion populations have been dwindling. According to Dereck Joubert (of National Geographic fame) the number of lions on the continent of Africa have dropped from around 450,000 to less than 20,000. And that’s in about 60 years!
What can be done to stop the decline?
Protecting Lions in Southern Africa
With the reduction of wild places (lions’ living space) and human wildlife conflict (lions preying on livestock) there are no easy answers or quick fixes. However, in 2014 we met a remarkable young man named Marnus Roodbol.
Marnus has a passion for lions. He spends months in the bush in search of lions. His aim is to understand them, their need for space, and how and where they get themselves in trouble with humans. A keen interest is also to curb the ever-increasing problem of losing lions to poachers. Lions are poached for body parts, from their paws and tails to the male’s penis.
In Botswana Marnus worked effectively with the farmers to install lights to keep lions away from livestock. In far northwestern Namibia he scoped out the status of lions living among the San people. He has even chased lions back into protected areas with his drone.
Presently Marnus and his team of Lion Rangers face a much larger challenge in the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park. This huge area includes the Kruger National Park, a reserve in Southern Zimbabwe and several in western Mozambique.
This is a vast area. The Kruger National Park has many established roads used primarily for the millions of tourists that visit the reserve each year to see the Big Five and other interesting wildlife. In contrast, the other parks are wild with little human infrastructure. While on the one hand this is fantastic for wildlife, it makes protecting it difficult.
Delivering Equipment for those Protecting Lions
It’s a cold rainy morning. Such a contrast from the sweltering heat of the day before. The storm had moved in during the night sending the neighboring camper’s table crashing. Fortunately the rain abated and the brisk wind quickly dried out our rooftop tent. We pack up dry at 5am and are out the Letaba Camp gate as it opens. The rain starts again and beats against the windscreen. The elephant tracks in the muddy road turn into a delightful pattern of glistening puddles.
The road we travel is not open to the public. Around 7:30 we find an abandoned picnic area to stop for rusks and tea. The entrance track is strewn with limbs left behind by elephants. The parking area is now a huge midden. We spot wildebeest through the trees, fortunately nothing else as we boil water on the small butane cooker on the floorboard.
At 9am we meet up with Marnus at the designated spot. The rain stops. We hand off the tents, mattresses, backpacks, tripod chairs etc. that we’d stuffed on the back seat of our Land Rover. These supplies are for his Lion Rangers who spend days in the bush looking as much for lions as poachers. It is challenging work. The bush is thick, walking is difficult, and the sun and rain can be equally brutal.
After the hand off we sit under the awning of the Land Rover and catch up with Marnus. He tells us stories of individual lions and the challenges to find them. These are truly wild lions. They shy away from humans and don’t let themselves be easily found. However, poachers find horrific ways like poison to get them. So Marnus’ team of Lion Rangers and their strategies are crucial in keeping the bad guys in check.
For us it is such a privilege to know Wildlife Heroes like Marnus. To sit in the bush and vicariously experience the wonder of the wild lions through his eyes is an honor.