The Harsh Reality . . .
“One year ago, with the loss of Cecil, . . . . people and initiatives fighting to save the lion”- Dr Luke Hunter, President, Panthera
With the most recent and detailed report on the status of the African lion published by Panthera, ‘Beyond Cecil: Africa’s Lions in Crisis’, those of us who truly care are numbed by the shocking statistics and atrocities that have come to light:
– Lion populations have plummeted by 43% in the past 20 years, to an estimated 20 000; in the same time-frame, populations in West, Central and East have collectively dropped by 60%;
– Lions have lost 75% of their original habitat in the past 100 years, lions now only occupy 8% of their historical range (which once spanned an area of over 13 million km2), and according to reports have disappeared entirely from 12 African countries, with possible recent extinction in four more;
– Only 6 African countries unequivocally harbour more than 1 000 lions: Tanzania & Kenya, Botswana, Mozambique and South Africa;
– Africa’s human population is expected to increase dramatically, from a current 1.2 billion to 2.47 billion by 2050; half of this growth is predicted in only 9 countries, all lion range states;
– Agricultural land use in sub-Saharan Africa has increased as has livestock grazing areas; between 2005 – 2050, cultivated land area is expected to increase by 21%, and livestock predicted to increase by 73%;
– Major threats: Human-wildlife conflict (lions on farmland – either resident in communal conservancies or raiding from protected areas – and cattle grazing illegally in protected areas), bush meat (historically for subsistence use in rural communities, now sold commercially in Africa, Europe and USA), human encroachment (encroachment of people and their livestock into Protected Areas and the associated pressure on lions is now regarded as one of the top three threats to the species; this is linked to the illegal bush-meat trade, a threat to both lions but their prey), trophy hunting (is difficult to regulate and to ensure sustainability) and lion poaching (the full extent of poaching for lion bones and other body parts is unclear, but the trade is growing);
– Captive Bred lions and Canned Hunting: more than 1 000 lions are killed each year in South Africa in so-called ‘canned hunts’, which cost on average less than a third of a ‘fair chase’ hunt; this feeds a legal trade of lion parts, particularly bones for illegal tiger products.
Each year, when writing AfriCat’s World Lion Day piece, I struggle to find a message of hope and I feel devastated at the harsh realities that we face daily out in the field . . . yet, when I meet a farmer who tirelessly herds his cattle and small stock home to safety each evening and see a child’s smile at the sight of a lion, I know that there has to be something that each of us can do to change it all, especially in our vast and sparsely populated country, Namibia.
The AfriCat Communal Carnivore Conservation Programme (CCCP), which drives the Hobatere Lion Research Project (AHLRP) and the Livestock Protection Programme (LPP), is making headway in a number of communal conservancies in the Kunene Region of north-west Namibia, where lions are either resident or visitors and where photographic lodges are rapidly developing innovative ways to support these programmes as well as the affected farmers; once such lodges are able to prove the value of the ‘living’ lion by generating more revenue and employment, the greater the tolerance and acceptance will be.
Join us on World Lion Day in celebration of the ‘living’ Lion, and “be the change you wish to see in the world” (Mahatma Ghandi).