Lions are extinct in 26 African countries and have vanished from over 95% of their historic range. There are an estimated 20,000 individuals left in the wild, compared to 200,000 a century ago; that’s a very sobering 90% reduction in numbers.
I have just returned from Uganda where I was undertaking project work with Dr Ludwig Siefert of the Uganda Carnivore Project. The day I arrived six lions were found dead, they had been decapitated and their paws cut off. Amazingly, the authorities quickly caught the four (genuine) culprits red handed and have already passed life sentences; a significant message to communicate and deter witchcraft involving lion body parts.
But, with only 41 lions in the park, to lose six is nothing short of disastrous. Ludwig was, naturally, totally distraught; these lions, in a normal environment, can live to 18 years of age and he’s spent each day with them, quietly ensuring their safety and wellbeing (sometimes vaccinating and operating as he does in extremis with all the creatures in the park).
Operating on a meagre budget (he has almost no funding), Dr Siefert could do so much more with sufficient donations, especially in terms of educating the local villagers. He already assists so many communities as well as lecturing at the university and teaching veterinary medicine, public health and epidemiology.
The Explorations Company, helped by contributions from our safari travellers, is a core stakeholder in the Lion Recovery Fund which supports lion conservation projects across Africa. They are a key driver in conservation funding and have a guiding objective to double the current lion population in Africa over 25 years.
The LRF is a major contributor to Desert Lion Conservation Trust in Namibia. Under the protection of Dr Flip Stander and despite being double the population of those in Uganda’s Queen Elizabeth National Park, desert lions also live a precarious life due to the harsh desert environment and sparsity of prey.
Dr Stander has dedicated his life to the protection of these lions, living off the grid and traversing the desert in his Landrover, tracking them and intervening in human-wildlife conflicts to prevent them being killed at the hands of local communities. It is possible to support Flip’s work on your philanthropic safari to Namibia, learn about the work the Trust undertakes and spend time with him in the desert tracking the lions that he protects.
The West African sub-species is in most precarious position, being critically endangered and desperately in need of help. The LRF and African Parks are desperately working to address the situation here. Almost the entire West African lion population has been lost with only a few isolated pockets remaining. There are estimated to be less than 400 lions in total across the entire west of Africa.
The NGO African Parks has assumed management of Pendjari National Park in Benin which is a critical park in the W-Arly-Penjari complex that spans Benin, Burkina Faso and Niger. This area protects 25% of the remaining West African lions and, with African Parks’ holistic approach to conservation through anti-poaching, community support and tourism, the restoration of Pendjari will protect many species at risk in West Africa.
Lions have been with us for 2 million years. The earliest remains were discovered in Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania. They have survived – recently just hanging on – until now. How can we in the west sit back and allow our wildlife to become extinct, this isn’t ‘someone else’s problem’.
Or will we just wring our hands and (with respect to the small band of scientists, researchers and those driven people who are out there achieving small miracles now) doing little that’s truly meaningful until we lose all our keystone species? And how much poorer would we and, perhaps more importantly, future generations be without the magnificence of the fauna with whom we still, just about, coexist?
African governments need to continue to realise that tourism is a major source of revenue for their economies, as tourists simply won’t travel to Africa if they cannot see these keystone species anymore, but we need to also do our part, travel when we can and meaningfully do something to help as a part of our safaris and holidays in Africa.
These are the most trafficked wildlife species in the world. It is a fact that China is the largest importer, closely followed by other south-east Asian countries. The latest WHO reports suggest that either the consumption of pangolin or bats - or both – started the outbreak of coronavirus in Wuhan, sold in the wet markets.
We need China not only to stop the dreadful pangolin massacre but also stop importing all animal derivatives such as tiger parts, rhino horn and elephant ivory.
Elephants, of course, are also now endangered. The savannah elephant is merely “endangered” whilst it’s cousin, the forest elephant (a different species), is critically endangered. Fact: the planet loses FIFTY-FIVE elephant each day to illegal poaching for ivory and from human encroachment. How clear does this message need to be?
Africa’s population is set to double by 2050, unless we can try and get the message across and address major issues such as population levels (yes, an “un-PC” thing to do but we need to deal with harsh reality here and it’s the same everywhere whatever the politicians, with their short term, entirely vote-centric thinking, may say), then we are facing a stark future.
What Africa needs is common sense, properly directed education, particularly for girls in rural communities who can dream of a future and know they have a choice and can be fundamental in creating the future. This is the one opportunity Africa has, to address the balance.
BUT! Unity is strength. This is not a glib platitude. TOGETHER we can make a difference! TOGETHER we can assist people like Ludwig Siefert, one of that small band of “doers”. He doesn’t need much! Around €80,000 per annum (around $100,000 in USD) ; a spit in the ocean when compared to the bigger organisations who don’t support his incredibly value-driven efforts. We can help him to be even more effective in his work!
If we all offered €5,000 (approximately $6100) then we could give him and others a real fillip, a real opportunity to DO something positive with NO administrative “overhead” or wastage. Or African Parks, who are trying to not only return large tracts of Africa which were once filled with wildlife to their former glory but also drive these areas forward into a positive, useful and protected future. This, by the way, also provides jobs, schools, clinics and stability for rural communities. Its win-win but WE need to do our bit.
You will all know that each safari The Explorations Company arranges in Africa or Asia includes a donation from you which is matched equally by ourselves. We spend this money as wisely as possible, usually on small, “sharp-end” projects and charities.
But I whole-heartedly recommend that you immerse yourself in our extraordinary and unique type of philanthropic travel. For a further donation you can meet people like Ludwig, spending time with him and being part of, for instance, a life changing collaring exercise for lion or leopard.
To do this one simply needs to fund the collars: €2,500 each (approximately $3100 USD). To be part of such an incredibly important process, which is vital, beneficial and absolutely not “mainstream tourism” – well, nobody can place a price on that!
Finally: I know I’m “banging my drum” but I only ask, when you travel to Africa or Asia, that you look deeper, with a curious mind, to see where you can assist. This can be far more than just travelling to the continent; actually becoming involved, whether participatory or non-participatory, and donating to (or even taking ownership of) a conservation, community or humanitarian project close to your heart – something that really resonates with you personally – is, put simply, a pinnacle experience.
We CAN make a difference. Thank you so much for reading this. If you would like to help by making a donation, or indeed would like more information about the charities making a difference in Africa and Asia, please do contact me.
Images by kind courtesy of Uganda Carnivore Project, Mara Elephant Project, Desert Lion Conservation, Green Safaris Foundation, ABC Foundation.