The Status Of Africa’s Lions On World Lion Day

by Gabrielle Ozynski
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Once, lions ranged over the entire African continent, except for its forests such as in the DRC, and in the Sahara desert. And in 1898, the Sabie Game Reserve, the forerunner to the Kruger National Park was patrolled by a mere two policemen. Since then, wildlife and its conservation has changed vastly. Now in 2019 lions, which number 22 000 over the continent, have lost 94% of their range.  In 25 years, the lion population has decreased by about almost half its population.

Over the last 45 years the Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT) has worked to save wildlife and habitats.  The EWT’s team of field-based specialists works across southern and East Africa, where they have implemented specialist programmes to ensure the wildlfe, human and environmental interconnected system is kept in balance and protected. Along with this, they continually identify ‘key threats to the environment and its precious wildlife, which are identified and reduced or eliminated’.

One of EWT’s programmes, the Carnivore Conservation Programme, has started a project called the African Lion Database (ALD) project. Headed up by Samantha Page-Nicholson, it is one of a kind. It aims to brings together the data on lion populations and their distribution onto one platform, as data tends to be isolated in various research and government institutions. Obviously a single, central database would benefit the conservation of the species and provide solutions to many challenges that limit successful and effective conservation decisions. ALD aims to create an authoritative and up-to-date compilation of data on these statistics. The project is a collaborative effort between protected area management, governments, researchers and NGOs.

The ALD will be used to:

  • Assist in continuous assessment of lion population status
  • Inform range countries, national and international institutions on lions’ status
  • Disclose the reliability of information and identify knowledge gaps
  • Continuously improve monitoring, conservation planning and resourcing for lions.

The ALD will aid in keeping the wild lion population safer and more easily monitored as the threats facing wild lions are multiple. Not only do these big cats face poaching, human-animal conflicts and habitat loss but also the cub petting and canned lion industry.

The increase in these commercial cub petting parks has seen a massive increase in South Africa over the last few years, and it is a purely commercial industry which serves no conservation purpose whatsoever. Once these cubs are adult lions, they are mostly kept in deplorable and inhumane conditions to be sold off for canned hunts, their body parts and / or bones or to zoos and circuses. Rewilding lions is a difficult and expensive process and is not an option for the captive lions. Unfortunately it is tourists who are unwittingly keeping the canned lion trade alive by supporting cub petting parks, as well as so-called hunters, who shoot canned lions who are often drugged and have no fair means to escape the bullet.

There are 8000 captive lions in South Africa. These lions suffer from inbreeding, are extremely dangerous, and have never learnt to fend for themselves in the wild. Some conservationists and rangers feel that although sad, it would best to euthanase them, as they do not contribute in any way to conserving the wild lion population.

We are the only country in Africa that has this commercial captive lion industry, which is ‘a stain on our image as a global conservation leader and ecotourism destination’, says the EWT.

While many hunters claim they are helping to conserve wild lions, veteran lion researcher, ecologist, zoologist and biologist Craig Packer, says that actually neither hunting (of any kind) nor wildlife tourism make anywhere enough money to give the kind of financial support that African wildlife parks really need. While a national reserve such as Yellowstone  in the US can charge a mere $15 dollars entrance fee and be well maintained, this is because citizens’ taxes help to contribute, as well as government funding, to the park’s upkeep. In Africa, this is not the case, as the tax base is small in many of its poorer countries, with little to no government funding.

Some Good News For Lions

A resident male lion in Nyika National Park, Malawi, was recently seen by Central African Wilderness Safaris, with the EWT receiving photos of him. Another recorded sighting  comes from Angola, where a  male and female with their two cubs were seen in Luando Special Reserve. This is the first time a female and cubs have been seen here in over a decade which offers hope of lions re-establishing themselves in the area. A recent Born Free expedition recorded a small pride of lions for the first time at Mpem and Djim National Park in southern Cameroon – again, in an area where lions were considered to be locally extinct.

Other encouraging news which broke on August 5, is the ruling on the lion bone quotas of 2017 and 2018. Nica Schreuder of The Citizen reports that ‘the much anticipated ruling around the lion bone quota has found that late minister of environmental affairs Edna Molewa’s 2017 and 2018 figures were unlawful. According to Judge Jody Kollapen, the quotas were reportedly not legal and were constitutionally invalid. The NSPCA argued last year that as soon as it submitted a request for a review of 2017’s quota, the 2018 quota was announced and confirmed.

‘This was while it had two legal processes in the pipeline. It also argued that although the department said no wild lions were at risk, the Endangered Wildlife Trust highlighted that wild lions, especially in Mozambique, had come under increasing threat for their body parts, which the department downplayed.

‘The NSPCA argued in court the lion bone trade sees captive-bred lions at times kept in deplorable conditions. The judge criticised the state for this, adding that if SA pursued this trade, captive-bred animals had to live in legally specified conditions’. A new lion bone quota has not been set yet.

 EWT Wild ‘n Free Campaign:

The EWT have launched the #WildnFree campaign to increase the awareness around wild lions and wants the public to pledge to not support captive lion activities and to pledge support for wild lions’ continued existence in the wild.

* EWT  is calling on all South Africans ‘to be the voice for the voiceless and join the fight against keeping carnivores in captivity for petting, walking-with, photo-tourism, captive hunting and the trade in their body parts’.
*Wild ‘n Free aims to keep carnivores where they belong – in the wild – by promoting the value and role of wild carnivores in natural free-living conditions.
*A Wild ‘n Free environment is one in which large carnivores are not reliant on humans for their daily needs, are free to use open space and hunt prey naturally, and can carry out natural social behaviours like mating, holding territories and interacting with competitors.
* By keeping our carnivores Wild ‘n Free, we are also conserving larger tracts of land and hundreds of other species of plants and animals, keeping food webs intact.
* Wild carnivores are the icons of Africa, and attract millions of tourists and their foreign revenue and associated benefits to our country every year.

See also: The Lion King Protect The Pride Campaign

The EWT  says it works with all relevant stakeholders, such as business, government and other wildlife conservation groups. “We are at the forefront of conducting applied research, supporting community conservation and livelihoods, training and building capacity, addressing human wildlife conflict, monitoring threatened species, and establishing safe spaces for wildlife range expansion. We act as a public watchdog, often taking government and industry to task for decision-making that does not meet sustainability criteria. ”

Read more:  From Miserable To Majestic: The 10-year Lionsrock Challenge

The EWT has three strategic focus areas. These are saving species, saving habitats, and benefiting people. The three are all linked and interconnected. Their specialist programmes include:

  • African Crane Conservation Programme
  • Birds of Prey Programme
  • Carnivore Conservation Programme
  • Drylands Conservation Programme
  • National Biodiversity and Business Network
  • People in Conservation
  • Threatened Amphibian Programme
  • Soutpansberg Protected Area
  • Vultures for Africa
  • Wildlife and Energy Programme
  • Wildlife and Transport Programme
  • Wildlife in Trade Programme

To take the #WildnFree pledge and for more information, visit The Endangered Wildlife Trust

Pictures: Magazine Features / EWT 

Graphs/Maps: EWT

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