The Wildlife Conservation Network Director for Conservation Initiatives Peter Lindsey spoke to The EastAfrican's Njiraini Muchira on threats to Africa’s lions and why protecting them is a matter of urgency.
What is the state of lions in Africa?
Africa’s lions are in trouble. Their geographic distribution has declined by 92 per cent and their numbers have declined from perhaps 200,000 100 years ago to somewhere between 20,000 and 30,000 today.
The pace of that decline is increasing and over the past two decades the numbers have declined by 43 per cent.
The decline has been caused by loss of habitat, poaching of their prey for bushmeat, retributive killing of lions by livestock owners, and increasingly, targeted poaching of lions for body parts. Consequently, there is a need for urgent action to protect lions, their prey and their habitats.
What is the impact?
If Africa loses its lions it will lose out on one of the major competitive edges that it has over other regions of the world. Africa’s lions are vital on many levels.
The tourism industry is one of the fastest growing industries in the world, and ecotourism is one of the fastest growing sectors of that industry.
Lions are one of (if not the) most sought-after animals among visiting tourists and are a key reason why people are attracted to visit Africa.
Tourism generates at least $34 billion for Africa every year, and those revenues are set to increase as demand for wildlife viewing grows. Africa has the most impressive assemblage of large mammals in the world.
The impact on the tourism sector is significant. Lions are the biggest drawcard for tourists to Africa’s wildlife areas. Without lions, Africa would lose its competitive edge over wildlife destinations on other continents.
Rwanda lost its lions, but recently reintroduced them into one of their flagship protected areas, Akagera National Park. Following the reintroduction, the number of tourists visiting the park increased significantly.
Consequently, if Africa is able to secure its lions, other wildlife and wild lands, the continent has potential to benefit from economic growth and economic diversification as a result of the growth of tourism and related industries.
What activities threaten lions?
Lions are affected by a range of threats. Key issues include growing human and livestock populations, which apply pressure on wildlife areas and lion habitats.
Lions are also affected by poaching of their prey, which results in the depletion of wildlife areas, meaning the “king of the jungle” is left with nothing to eat.
Wire snares set by poachers to catch antelope and buffalo also often catch lions.
Increasingly, we are seeing targeted poaching of lions for body parts such as teeth, skin, skulls and bones. This poaching is driven by the illegal international trade in wildlife that we believe, stems from demand for lion products in Asia.
Lions are also frequently killed by farmers for attacking their livestock.
Varied solutions are needed to tackle these issues. For example, there is a need for support to livestock farmers to help them protect their herds from lions, such as through the construction of reinforced bomas to house livestock at night, and by the provision of training to allow for improved livestock husbandry. There is need for support for the management of protected and other wildlife areas to ensure that habitat destruction and illegal grazing are prevented.
Deterrents are needed to protect lions and their prey from poachers. Additionally, there is a need to tackle the illegal trade in wildlife products such as bushmeat and lion body parts, and to ensure that the criminals involved face the full force of the law.
There is also a need to work closely with communities to make sure that they benefit from the conservation of wildlife and natural resources and to make sure that they are closely involved in the management and protection of their natural heritage.
The growth of human populations represents a massive threat to Africa’s natural resources.
What should African governments do?
African governments have demonstrated a strong commitment to wildlife conservation, which we conservationists appreciate and respect.
However, we also appreciate that the governments are confronted by an array of competing demands, some of which are given higher priority for funding.
There is a strong case for African governments (and the international community) to invest more in conservation and protected areas, because if they do, that is likely to yield benefits to their countries.
Climate change is having severe impact on Africa’s wildlife population. What can be done to salvage the situation?
Woodlands and forests are vitally important for capturing and storing carbon, and protecting such habitats is vital to help limit the effects of climate change.
Wildlife-based tourism is a strategy for African countries to help cope with the impacts of climate change, because revenue from tourism is not as directly related to rainfall or grass production as livestock production and farming are.
Minimising carbon dioxide emissions through the burning of fossil fuels represents an important step for limiting climate change in Africa.
Also, climate change is a global responsibility and it is important for Africa to continue to put pressure on the world’s biggest economies to reduce such emissions.
Background: Peter Lindsey harbours a lifelong passion for African wildlife conservation and has been working on and with African wildlife since 1993 when he started out as an apprentice in Save Valley Conservancy in Zimbabwe.
Developing an early expertise on African wild dogs, he has worked on a broad array of conservation issues ranging from predator conservation, to the threats facing them and other wildlife, to wildlife ranching and community conservation.
He has worked in Botswana, Kenya, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. Prior to joining Wildlife Conservation Network, he worked for Panthera’s Lion Programme as the policy co-ordinator.
Peter holds a PhD from the Mammal Research Institute at the University of Pretoria.
The Lion Recovery Fund provides funds raised to the best ideas for lion conservation around the continent.
The $800,000 fund by Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation aims to invest in projects that protect lion habitats and promote the conservation of lions and their prey.