Threatened African lions can thrive in protected areas

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Several conservation projects are protecting the continent’s remaining lion populations in their natural habitats.

Photo: Pixabay/antony trivet

Lions across Africa have seen their habitats shrink over the years, but not in the Balule Nature Reserve, a protected area that is part of the Kruger National Park in South Africa. Here, in an area the size of Belgium, lions can roam freely in vast spaces without being deterred by fences.

In fact, lions can travel so widely that the experts watching them must then resort to tricks like leaving new victims as bait to lure the lions into an area so that they can be counted.

“Sometimes they ate. If they are full, they do not come ”, observed Ian Nowak, Chief Guardian of the Balule Nature Reserve. “Especially the males, they are lazy as hell,” he jokes.

Balule is an environmental success story about a continent where the fortunes of Africa’s iconic lions have steadily declined over the past decades as many of their roaming grounds have been turned into farmland and urban settlements. Trophy hunting and widespread poaching have also taken their toll on the majestic predators.

“African lions once roamed most of Africa and parts of Asia and Europe. But the species has disappeared from 94 percent of its historic range and can only be found today in parts of sub-Saharan Africa, ”National Geographic Explain. “These lions mainly stick to grasslands, scrub or woodland where they can more easily hunt prey, but they can live in most habitats outside of tropical rainforests and deserts.”

By the turn of this century, Balule was also primarily agricultural land with very few lions. Yet thanks to enhanced conservation measures that saw local farmland converted to wild open spaces, there were 156 lions in the reserve, according to the latest census last year.

“The Lions are doing incredibly well, mainly because there is a big enough space to operate,” Nowak says.

Tourists are allowed to visit the area and see the lions up close on guided game drives. This helps fund local conservation initiatives for African lions, which are classified as critically endangered and have already been declared extinct in 26 African countries where they once roamed.

“Although lions still exist in 28 African countries and one Asian country [India], only six protected area complexes are home to more than 1,000 lions. Fortunately, they remain secure for the foreseeable future, but in about 60 other protected areas the situation is much less secure, ”conservation group Panthera Remarks.

Encouragingly, there are a number of conservation projects in Africa designed to protect the continent’s remaining lion populations in their natural habitats. This includes working with the local population to ensure that they do not retaliate against lions who prey on their livestock by shooting or poisoning them.

“Retaliation is the number one reason people kill this big cat. We are working with communities to help them realize the value of the big cat and to help them protect their families and livestock from predation by carnivores ”, said the African Wildlife Foundation, which operates in Ruaha National Park in Tanzania, where a tenth of the world’s wild lions live.

“Since 2012, AWF has been working with communities in Ruaha to build livestock enclosures to protect livestock from predation and, in turn, protect big cats and other carnivores from conflict with humans. In addition, the Ruaha Carnivore project provides community benefits to villages that manage to live in peace with carnivores, ”adds the conservation group.


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