Learn about the wild lions of Africa, and the conservation challenges faced by the protectors of these unusual mammals and how the Wild Tomorrow Fund is helping them. The problems encountered with human populations, their living spaces, where they are found and how many there are? These are just some of the questions we ask about the wildest of cats.
Wild Lion Conservation
Wild Tomorrow Fund environmental scientist Clinton Wright worked five years at Tembe Elephant Park analyzing wild lions and hyenas, learning to understand each individual and the overall issues of wild lion management in fenced reserves. The Wild Tomorrow Fund is a member of the Lion Management Forum of South Africa.
The lion (Panthera leo) is disappearing from the wild at a rapid rate. In the last 21 years, the equivalent of only three generations of lions, its population has dropped by about 43%. Today, lions have disappeared from 26 African countries and it is estimated that fewer than 30,000 remain. In short, they are in serious trouble throughout the African continent 🌍
Where to Find Wild Lions ?
A deeper look at the numbers indicates two quite distinct stories. Wild lion numbers in India and southern Africa (South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, and Zimbabwe) have increased by about 12% while the global population has declined by about 60% in the rest of its African range.
The increasing populations of wild lions in southern Africa 🦁 is also a statistic that needs to be examined more closely. Anyone familiar with domestic cats knows that they breed quickly! Lions are no different in this respect. Every two years, a lioness produces a litter of one to five cubs. This is why fenced reserves in southern Africa must limit or control the birth rate of their wild lion populations. If left unchecked, this 12% growth rate will be much higher, putting pressure on the reserves, the ecosystem and increasing the risk of a lion “escaping” and coming into conflict with neighboring communities. Wild lions living in the limited spaces of southern African reserves would be able to recover their populations at a much higher rate if they had more space.
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“I worked in a lion reserve with managed wild lions for many years,” explains Clinton Wright, the senior ecologist for the Wild Tomorrow Fund. “The lions were introduced there in the early 2000s. Despite an estimated carrying capacity of 25, and despite contraception and strategic relocation of as many lions as possible to other reserves, those numbers were consistently approaching 50. No matter how well the birth rate was controlled and how many lions were moved out of the reserve, the population continued to grow or gaps were filled with new births within months.”
This is not a unique story, and almost every lion reserve in South Africa is facing the same problems. The situation is compounded by dwindling government support, limited budgets and resources drained by the rhino poaching epidemic. “It’s a constant struggle for small reserves in South Africa to keep lion numbers down – and managers can’t even give lions away for free. There’s just no room for them anymore,” Clinton says. “It’s a similar story for elephants 🐘 giraffes and even the endangered African wild dog . We’ve reached a point where we have to contract or use partial hysterectomies to control the numbers downward.”
Why Do Wild Lions Numbers Increase in Africa and Decrease Elsewhere ?
“Fortress conservation” in southern Africa is very different from the rest of Africa. This means that wildlife reserves are surrounded by electrified fences, a legal requirement for reserves that house animals that pose a risk to humans. Thus, the migration or natural movement of wildlife is limited by the fenced boundaries. As a result, there are many small reserves that require careful and scientific management measures to simulate natural events.
The small fortress reserves in South Africa are carefully managed and balanced. They are often surrounded by communities or farms. And almost all of their operating costs come from tourism activities. For this reason, reserves must be carefully managed – water supplies must be maintained, prey bases must be supplemented if necessary, excess wildlife must be removed to avoid excessive impact on vegetation 🌿 and diseases must be controlled. The wild lion pride is often managed as a unit. There is very little fighting or infanticide. This leads to high survival rates for cubs that usually reach adulthood. In a larger, more natural system, disease, drought, depletion of the prey base, intense competition between prey, and infanticide by other lions or predators result in lower survival rates and more balanced performance. Thus, when this delicate balance is disrupted by poaching of lion parts, depletion of the prey base due to illegal hunting, habitat destruction, and human-lion conflicts, the additional pressures tip the balance toward negative birth rates and declining numbers, as seen outside of southern Africa.
How Do Lions Survive in the Wild ?
In some regions of Africa, reserves are typically open systems, with limited or no fencing (boundary fencing only). Fauna travels and migrates between zones. People still live in these areas and coexist and conflict with fauna. Both open fortress and systems have their advantages and disadvantages. However, as the human population continues to increase, South Africa can be seen as an analyzing region for conservation. People have possibility to begin to expand into wildlife regions in other African areas, and as human-wildlife conflicts increase, that other countries of Africa will also close their outer borders.
How Many Lions Are Left in the Wild Today ?
Lions have disappeared from 95% of their historic range due to habitat loss, hunting and poaching, retaliation by pastoralists, loss of prey and other factors. ” Slightly more than a century ago, there were over 200k wild lions in Africa. Today, there are only about 20,000; lions have disappeared from 26 African countries.
The IUCN Red List population count is a bit more optimistic, but not by much: They estimate that between 23,000 and 39,000 lions remain in the wild.
Although lions are a big part of human consciousness across the planet, we are in danger of seeing the species disappear completely from the grasslands where they live. This is quite surprising to many people, especially the ones who love lions. These big cats are part of a very large ecosystem, in which humans play an important role. This role can be shifted from one that causes lion populations to decline toward extinction, to the one creating coexisting and protecting strategies with this powerful and beautiful predator.
Solutions for Expanding Wild Lion Territory.
Linking securing habitat for wildlife is a roadmap for creating more space not only for lions, but for all other species. We believe the most important action in lion conservation today is the creation of wildlife corridors to link together as many small, fragmented reserves as possible (many of which are in close proximity to each other), while ensuring that existing reserves are well protected.
“If we can expand existing areas to at or near a total size of 1,000 square kilometers, lions (and other animals) 🐾will largely become self-managing. Land is a delicate matter in Africa, yet this that benefits local communities, preserves areas for wildlife and plants, and reduce the burdens and costs of managing small reserves,” she said.
Help us direct your passion for lion conservation in ways that will make a difference. Envisage doing an eco-safari to a seriously maintained wildlife reserve in Africa. Make a donation to charities that help rangers and habitat preservation. Help fund translocation projects. Together, we can give lions a future. An African savanna without The Roar of Lions is something we can’t bear to imagine.