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Seeking a future for the king of beasts

Seeking a future for the king of beasts

Seeking a future for the king of beasts

We return for a detailed look at Dr Paula White’s work on lions in Zambia.

The Zambia Lion Project was born out of Dr Paula White’s research on carnivore species in the Luangwa Valley which began in 2003. The project’s goal is to assist Zambia Wildlife Authority in developing and implementing a rigorous, scientifically based management plan for lion populations in Zambia.

Working in partnership with ZAWA, the Professional Hunters Association of Zambia and the Safari Hunters and Operators of Zambia, the Zambia Lion Project collects samples (photographs, teeth and DNA) from trophy lions taken each year, to build up a picture of lion populations nationwide.

Scientists and trophy hunters share the common goals of long-term conservation of the species in the wild and the desire for sustainable numbers. While controversy persists over the value of sport hunting to conservation, management of extensive areas of land for wildlife often depends on revenues generated from hunting.        

“Many people do not understand how sustainable hunting of select individuals can contribute to conservation of a species,” said Dr White, who notes that in Zambia’s Game Management Areas, hunting safari operators engage in land stewardship that includes anti-poaching patrols and control of illegal human and livestock encroachment on wildlife areas, thereby protecting vast tracts of prime habitat adjacent to National Parks.         

In addition to protecting habitat and animals, hunting activities distribute crucial income and provide development aid such as boreholes, schools and clinics in remote villages.        

“For large carnivores in particular, it is imperative that the rural people who shoulder the everyday costs of co-existence with potentially dangerous animals recognize direct benefits as well,” said Dr White. Economic incentives derived from safari hunting of lions helps to promote tolerance of large predators that villagers otherwise seek to destroy as dangerous pests.

In turn, it is the responsibility of the hunting community as well as the wildlife management authority to ensure that hunting of lions is done in a sustainable fashion. Zambia Lion Project’s research has contributed to Zambia Wildlife Authority’s completion of Zambia’s ‘Conservation Strategy and Action Plan for the African Lion’ which marked an important step forward and demonstrated to the international community that Zambia is genuinely committed to long-term lion conservation.

The goals of the Zambia Lion Project are to:

1) Conduct countrywide surveys through historic lion habitats in Zambia, with an emphasis on outlying areas where lion occurrence is reported but current status of lion is unknown.

2) Estimate population size, demography, and productivity of prides, and determine movements of lions between fully-protected National Parks and multi-use Game Management Areas within the two regions in Zambia where lion populations are robust i.e., Luangwa Valley and Kafue ecosystems.

3) Assess the genetic biodiversity of lions from three potentially different stocks in Zambia (Luangwa Valley, Lower Zambezi, Kafue). Investigations into the genetic profiles of Zambia's lions will aid in identifying wildlife corridors as well as detecting genetic features that may be unique to Zambia's lion populations. Along with geographic information on lion occurrence and distribution, genetic profiling helps to detect connectivity of disjointed lion populations, and thus identify critical corridor areas in which lion conservation should be prioritized.

4) Develop an age-based trophy selection programme that is applicable to Zambia's lions. Working with Professional Hunters and Safari Operators, the Zambia Lion Project gathers regional information on physical characteristics of trophy lions that correspond to the animal's age. Selecting older lions as trophies is an important component of sustainable hunting, thereby helping to reduce the negative impact on the resident lion population.

Read more articles from this issue:
Zambezi Traveller (Issue 09, June 2012)

Read more about the region in our destination guide: