Lion populations are down by 60% overall with the worst hit being those in West Africa. As numbers are projected to decline further by 50% in the next two decades in Central, West and East Africa the future of these majestic animals is at considerable risk. The only region which is actually increasing in lion density is Southern Africa.
If this predicted fall is to be reversed we need to place immediate emphasis on both saving and then seeing our lions in Africa.
Help celebrate World Lion Day on 10th August, by either seeing these magnificent animals at close quarters as part of a collaring exercise with lion scientists and researchers or by donating to the Lion Recovery Fund, which The Explorations Company supports through its own philanthropic initiatives.
The decline in lion numbers can essentially be attributed to human population density. The striking contrast between the lion populations in countries in Southern Africa and the rest of the continent is congruent with differences in human population density.
Prey abundance is another determinant which is increasingly under threat from an unsustainable commercial bush meat trade. Essentially, lion trends are consistent with availability of their main prey species; herbivore population sizes increased by 24% in Southern Africa whereas herbivore numbers declined by 52% in East Africa and 85% in West Central Africa between 1970 and 2005.
Another important factor is management budgets and the capacity to protect parks, all of which are higher in the well-maintained populations in Southern Africa.
The good news however, is that lion population numbers are strong in Tanzania (where the highest population of lions in all of Africa are located), Kenya, Chad, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Botswana and Zambia.
However this is only possible with the assistance of fabulous charities who work tirelessly in the preservation of these magnificent beasts, such as Panthera.org, Lion Recovery Fund (which we support as a company), Ruaha Carnivore project as well as a number of dedicated scientists and researchers throughout Africa.
For those who are truly interested (and I would highly recommend this to everyone), for a donation, one can spend time with these researchers in places such as OI Malo in Kenya’s Laikipia, whose core principles are conservation and philanthropy, Ruaha in Tanzania, or Damaraland in Namibia.
I highly recommend spending time with individuals such as Dr Flip Stander, the world authority on the desert lion in Africa, who spends the majority of his time in his landcruiser monitoring and collaring lions to collect data and negotiating with communities to establish corridors for them in an effort to save this vulnerable species.
I spent time with Flip last year and it was simply wonderful. Being able to track the lions and having the reward of eventually finding them after many hours was a complete privilege. But whether one sees them or not (it is incredibly difficult due to the vast terrain and the lack of prey), the main point is to spend time with this man and understand the challenges facing these animals. Ultimately, the most important factor is that you have made a direct contribution to the survival of this species in this inhospitable territory.
One can be guaranteed to see lions in the Matusadona region at Changa. Changa Camp lies on the shores of Lake Kariba a beautiful setting which I love. It combines the water – always soporific with views of the Matusadona Mountain range on the horizon and bushveld.
An added advantage is spending time with Rae Kokes, the principal lion researcher, undertaking a rigorous population ecology study on the resident lion population. Rae has surveyed the park in full and knows all of the large carnivores and prey across the eco system. It is a privilege to be able to devote a part of your safari accompanying her.
Rae has been studying lions for 10 years, the last four in Matusadona which is a Lion Conservation Unit - essentially an area of significant ecological importance to the species as a whole. Whilst numbers used to be high in the park (around 400 in the 1990s) there are now only around 28 lions. It is vital therefore to look after and protect the remaining cats.
Significant poaching in the past, fluctuating water levels in the lake and decimated grazing have all had a significant impact on lion prey thereby reducing the lion population. As Rae says, “Introducing these ‘Lions of the Lake shore’ to the visitors has shed light on these apex predators and also highlighted all the threats to their specific areas.”
Rae’s biggest hurdle in her continuing research has been sourcing funding. Currently about 10 lions need to be collared (as permitted by the national wildlife authority) and with each costing USD $2300 (including 24 months of data downloading fees) it is an ongoing challenge. They also need to fund batteries, a new vehicle for a local researcher and a telemetry receiver and antenna (USD $1,104) vital in assisting with monitoring of the prides.
Spending time with Rae at Changa Camp as part of your safari in Zimbabwe not only provides a great insight into the vital work being undertaken to protect the lion population in the region but provides vital funding to enable it to continue.
For those visiting other parts of the continent Ruaha National Park in southern Tanzania has 10 percent of Africa’s entire lion population and Zakouma National Park in Chad has a thriving lion population too - so if you simply want to observe them in the wild, these two countries should definitely be on your list!
I would be very pleased to discuss lion conservation with you as well as the best ways to see lions in the wild, contact me here to talk further!
Images of Change Camp provided courtesy of Changa Safari Camp
Images of lions and lion researchers provided courtesy of Laikipia Predator Project