How lions can survive

What do you think will save lions from going the way of sabre-toothed cats? More severe penalties for persecution? Greater restrictions on where people can live? Or a model that offers those Africans who live with lions some recompense for doing so?

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Lions and buffalo
Lions don't just take wild prey such as buffalo – they also kill livestock, putting them at odds with humans. © Daniel Rosengren

 

Lions are in trouble. Populations are declining across Africa, mainly because of increasing conflict with herders of cattle and other livestock.

In short, people kill lions to stop them from taking their cows, sheep and goats.

Lions in some countries are doing alright. In South Africa, for example, the population increased by 7 per cent over two decades, largely thanks to the use of fencing that separates the predators from the people.

In Zimbabwe, numbers have grown by more than 1,000 per cent (but from a very, very low base of about 50), mainly on the back of trophy hunting.

But in all of West Africa and even popular wildlife tourism destinations such as Botswana, Tanzania and Zambia, they're disappearing at a rate of knots.

Now new research has found that lions are doing better in the Masai Mara ecosystem, in Kenya (where in fact the overall country trend is down) thanks to the creation of community conservancies.

Households with conservancy membership receive a share of the money that comes from wildlife tourism. Where there are lions and other carnivores, you get more tourists and local people are financially better off.

Lions fare better where there are tourists out and about. © Daniel Rosengren

The paper, published in the Journal of Applied Ecology, shows that the average lion population density within the Mara’s conservancies – almost 12 lions per 100km2 – between 2008 and 2013 was 2.6 times higher than previously reported in 2003.

Not only that, but those livestock settlements that were not members of a conservancy and were within the home range of a lion pride had a large negative effect on lioness survival rates.

“This suggests that lions can survive outside of fenced areas within pastoral regions if communities gain benefits from wildlife,” say the authors, led by Sara Blackburn and Dr Grant Hopcraft of the University of Glasgow.

Dr Laurence Frank, director of the Living With Lions project, added: “Only local people can reverse the downward spiral [in wildlife numbers], and this study shows that profits from tourism can motivate rural people to tolerate rather than eliminate wild animals.”

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