In Africa, lion populations are dwindling. Big cats have been relegated to just 17% of their historical range. This make me sad. I love lions. In fact, my last name is the Spanish word for lion. So I feel like I’m related to lions. When I was young I used to have dreams that I was a lion before I was born. I lived in the wild. I saw myself running through grasslands and playing with a lioness. Then I was reincarnated as a human. A sort of karmic rebirth.
Karmic (theosophy) – the cosmic principle according to which each person is rewarded or punished in one incarnation according to that person’s deeds in the previous incarnation.
I can still remember when the movie Lion King came out. My mom pre-ordered the VHS tape. She got this enormous poster as a promotional gift. She picked me up from school with the poster sticking out of the car window. I remember being so excited to watch the movie as a family.
Despite the downturn, lions seem to be making a resurgence in other parts of Africa. The Serengeti population comes to mind. All other lion populations are in decline. Serengeti lions are mainly concentrated in Southern Africa. Populations are thriving there. Lions live in groups called prides. These consist of 30 lions on average. Three males, 12 females, and their offspring. If resources are scarce the pride becomes smaller.
So why are they thriving in the Southern parts?
A – they live in deserts far away from humans
B – they are fenced in
“Any land we can get under protection can contribute to conservation. So the more the better”, says Peter A. Lindsay, researcher at the conservation organization Panthera.
Proponents of fencing argue that lions act as a buffer against other predators from coming into conflicts with humans (ranchers, poachers), livestock (horses, cattle) and agriculture. But others disagree. Biologists argue that enclosed lions make only “limited contributions to ecosystem functionality”. So is fencing really just a way to attract tourists to Africa?
South Africa’s mostly fenced Krueger National Park is nearly the size of New Jersey. Here, the lions can still perform their roles as apex predators and regulate the ecosystem by controlling populations of antelope, buffalo, and other ungulates, which in turn help to maintain plant communities. But the problem is that preserving the ecosystem and upkeep of such parks is costly. Money has to be spent on buying contraceptives for lionesses in order to avoid overpopulation and on transferring lions to other reserves to prevent inbreeding.
Underfunding is a huge issue!
A study conducted by Packer found that it’s cheaper to manage lions in fenced areas at around $500 per square kilometers than in unfenced areas, where $2,000 is only enough to manage a population at half its potential density. The problem is that lions like to roam in huge swaths of land. They can claim territory as large as 260 sq km. They detest confinement. So this could cost up to $130,000 in fencing projects. On the other hand, researchers at Montana State University found that dollar for dollar spending in unfenced areas helps more individual lions.
However, national and state governments simply don’t have the cash to manage the average unfenced lion population. The money government collects from taxes on trophy hunting and ecotourism barely reaches the pockets of wildlife managers. Most critically, locals need strong economic incentive to coexist with lions. Having apex predators around means risking inventory on livestock and keeping their flocks from grazing on protected lands due to lions chasing them.
Some speculate that if land managers in Africa were as well funded as Yellowstone National Park they could afford to manage more unfenced lions! But these are third world nations. The reality is that all sides of this issue need better funding.
Some ecosystems will benefit from fences, whereas other populations will require “conflict-mitigation” projects.
“If the funding is there…there’s no reason why the existing protected areas couldn’t carry alot more lions”, concluded Peter A Lindsay.
Goldman, J. (2016, April). Lions on the Edge. Scientific American, 12-14.