A new report concludes
that nearly half of Africa's wild lion populations may decline to near
extinction over the next 20-40 years without urgent conservation measures. The
plight of many lion populations is so bleak, the report concludes that fencing
them in - and fencing humans out - may be their only hope for survival.
Led by the University of Minnesota's Professor Craig Packer
and co-authored by a large team of lion biologists, including Panthera's
President, Dr Luke Hunter, and Lion Program Director, Dr. Guy Balme, the
report, entitled Conserving large
carnivores: dollars and fence, was published in the scientific journal Ecology Letters.
"It is clear that fences work and unfenced populations
are extremely expensive to maintain," said Craig Packer, who also sits on
Panthera's Cat Advisory Council. Using field data from 11 African countries,
the Ecology Letters study examines the cost of managing fenced and unfenced
habitats, and compares lion population densities and trends in both.
What the report
The report shows that conservation costs are lower, and lion
population sizes and densities are greater, in reserves secured by
wildlife-proof fences, compared to unfenced ecosystems. Lions in unfenced
reserves were subject to a higher degree of threats from human communities,
including retaliatory killing by herders, habitat loss and fragmentation, and
overhunting of lion prey.
Panthera's Dr. Luke Hunter explained, "These findings
highlight the severity of the lion conservation crisis today and the limited
choices we have to ensure a future for the species. No one wants to resort to
putting any more fences around Africa's marvellous wild areas, but without
massive and immediate increases in the commitment to lion conservation, we may
have little choice."
Whether fencing or some alternative physical boundary such
as intensely managed buffer zones, it is clear that separating lion and human
populations will be essential for the species' survival. Along with maintaining
physical boundaries, conflict mitigation initiatives such as those carried out
through Panthera's Project Leonardo and the Lion Guardians program, are required
to reduce the killing of lions where humans and lions share the landscape.
Panthera's Dr Guy Balme stated, "We have shown that it
is possible to keep both humans and lions in African landscapes by reducing
lion-human conflict, but it requires extensive resources. As the numbers of
people and their livestock continue to grow in Africa, it is essential to scale
up these programs to avert losing many lion populations."
Today, it is estimated that fewer than 30 000 lions remain
in Africa in just 25% of the species' original natural habitat.