A key role in lion survival
A key role in lion survival
BY : DR MATTHEW BECKER
The African lion is perhaps the most iconic of the continent’s wildlife, but as with all such species, lions continue to decline across the continent due to human impacts. In the face of ever-increasing threats, the importance of large landscapes and large wild lion populations only increases.
Zambia is of key significance for lion conservation; it borders eight countries, is part of three Transfrontier Conservation Areas and has a substantial portion of its landmass managed for wildlife and wildlife-based economies.
The Zambian Carnivore Programme (ZCP) in collaboration with the country’s managing body, the Zambia Wildlife Authority (ZAWA), conducts conservation work on lion across the country in the two largest populations, namely in the Luangwa Valley and the Greater Kafue Ecosystem, as well as in a recovering population in the Greater Liuwa Plain Ecosystem.
Using an array of methods ranging from surveys to long-term intensive studies of radio-collared prides and coalitions, ZCP conducts research on an array of lion-related issues, including demography and predator-prey dynamics, carnivore guild relations and disease.
Collectively these data help identify the key threats and conservation actions needed. Threats are addressed with actions ranging from de-snaring efforts (given that lions are frequently trapped as by-catch); studies of human encroachment and poaching to determine trends, rates and impacts; evaluations of trophy hunting impacts; science-based land-use planning; vaccination programmes to protect both wild and domestic carnivores from disease outbreaks; and protection of large scale habitat connectivity.
Perhaps most importantly, ZCP helps ensure the long-term viability of these efforts by training, employing and educating Zambia’s current and future conservation leaders, from secondary school level up to international graduate degrees. This notably includes the graduate work of Thandiwe Mweetwa, a former Mfuwe student who is currently evaluating lion population dynamics during the lion hunting ban from 2013-2015, as part of her research at the University of Arizona in the United States.
Perhaps the best symbol of hope for lion restoration is Lady Liuwa, the best known lion not named Cecil, and star of the film The Last Lioness. With the lion population reduced to a single lioness, the collaborative restoration effort by African Parks Network, ZAWA, ZCP, WWF and the Barotse Royal Establishment has resulted in the first cubs born in Liuwa in over a decade. With an impressive array of protected areas and lion populations, the potential for Zambia’s lions to recover and increase with proper protection and funding is outstanding. Help support Zambia’s wild lion populations by visiting the country’s many tourist camps and see for yourself!