So many of us were outraged by the slaughter of Cecil the lion. Although his death was an atrocity, it did bring focus to the practice of trophy hunting. Trophy hunting isn’t the only problem lions have to face, though, there’s also the matter of co-existing with the African people.
As an article in the weekend edition of the Wall Street Journal pointed out, an African population boom is leading to a shrinkage of lion’s natural habitat and leading to questions about the lion’s future in the area.
The African lion population has declined 42% in the last 21 years, while the African human population has almost doubled during the same 21 year period. Forecasts predict the African human population will double again by 2050.
The population explosion has led to more forests that have traditionally been lion territory being converted to pastures. Those moving to the rural areas are often hunting the same prey lions do for food, and herders, in order to protect their herds, have been known to kill lions that may be hunting for food to eat.
There are efforts underway to find ways lions and humans can peacefully co-exist. Programs have been created to improve corrals and techniques to keep lions away from livestock, and payments to communities to protect big animals in their areas.
Areas of West and Central Africa have already lost 66% of their lion population, and in some areas lions now have less than 1% of the area they used to inhabit and roam freely.
In Mozambique, the number of people living in the Niassa Reserve has grown to 35,000, up from 21,000 in 2001. The people living in the reserve often clash with lions that attack their livestock. Oddly, the lion population here has increased due to the poaching of elephants for their ivory. The poachers take the elephant tusks and leave carcasses that serve as food for the lions.
Southern Africa’s picture is quite different. The lion population has seen an increase of 8%, due in large part to conservation efforts underway and slower human population growth. Conservation programs are targeting ways to help locals coexist with lions, not necessarily comfortably, but with a little less fear.
There are some successful lion-management programs springing up in parts of Africa. Panthera trains and pays locals to scare off lions by beating drums and blowing instruments to help track lions and report those that may be a problem.
Efforts are underway to give locals more control over the land through long-lease concessions or helping them establish conservancies to attract tourists. The thought is this will curb influx of settlers into the protected areas and protect resident wildlife.
For those living in Africa, the struggle is a tough one. Hopefully, the programs being established will continue to prosper so the wildlife and human populations can peacefully coexist for many years to come.