From a young age people are taught about lions whether it’s along the lines of “What noise does a lion make?”, through movies like The Lion King and the MGM company logo or as a staple to every zoological collection making lions a firm public favourite, at least to those who don’t have to live with them on a daily basis.
African lions are classified as vulnerable with their Asian counterparts classified as endangered by the IUCN and have undergone a population of reduction of approximately 43% over the past 25 years.
The National geographic illustrates just how much the range has contracted over the past 200 years (clink link inserted here) in a much easier way than me waffling on.
Main threats to lion populations:
- Loss of habitat & prey species
- Unregulated hunting & associated pressures
- Climate change
- Human-wildlife conflict
- Availability of resources
According to Dr Jackie Abell; a Reader in Psychology at Coventry University and Director of Research at African Lion & Environmental Research Trust (ALERT), it’s the rate of decline that should worry people rather than the actual estimated populations of lions. But this is just a guessing game. Current populations are believed to be around 15,000 – 35,000 individuals but exact figures have been difficult to produce as a result of varying surveying methods.
So what does ALERT do?
ALERT is an organisation that collaborates with various local stakeholders to create a responsible development approach to lion conservation where solutions are implemented to enable humans and lions to peacefully coexist.
As a social scientist, Dr. Abell takes a multi-disciplinary approach and advocates that conservation is an issue everyone can specialise in. As Nelson Mandela once said
“ultimately, conservation is about people”
therefore local solutions must meet local challenges. So by gaining the vital support from the relevant stakeholders and addressing their specific needs the solutions are more likely to be sustainable in the long-term.
But with conservation, there is conflict. How can you protect an species that to one person is Simba from The Lion King but to another a serious threat to your only income source? That is where ALERT comes in.
Cue light bulb moment
Human-lion conflict issues are prevalent across Africa and are on the increase as a result of human development and an increasing lack of prey species and suitable habitat. Lions frequently venture into human settlements at night to prey on enclosed livestock, therefore the design of these enclosures (or bomas) is key.
A low cost, innovative solution was developed in 2010 by Richard Turere in Kenya at the age of 11. Instead of simply strengthening the walls of the bomas he used a series of torches, a car battery and a series of solar panels to create a flashing light system around the perimeter. A lions are naturally wary of humans the flashing light sequence gave the illusion of someone patrolling the boma.
A few years later this idea was slightly modified and was implemented in 3 communities most threatened by lion attacks in the Matetsi Safari Area, Zimbabwe. The two main aims of this project was to use the flashing lights coupled with camera traps, to see just who was attacking the bomas, as well as vital conservation education.
This project has been found to be extremely effective, Dr. Abell and her team are currently trying to extend the project to include other communities with high human-lion conflict.
Like Dr. Abell, I believe that in order for conservation to be sustainable a multidisciplinary approach is key. But then again this can be controversial, how can you balance the needs of a species with those of humans? Compared to other species Africa’s lions are charismatic and I’m sure will always generate some sort of interest in their conservation. But is that enough? Protecting lions would also benefit so many more species. As an umbrella species the protection of lions indirectly provides protection for all other animals that exist in the same environment.
This has by far been my favourite seminar of the series. I liked how ALERT uses simple cheap technology to solve quite complicated problems. Dr. Abell speaks with such enthusiasm it’s infectious and as a stranger you can tell just how much she cares and enjoys her work, that is one of the things I hope to have one day in my own career in whatever job I end up in.
Cover photo by Pekka Järventaus