Lioness with her cubs (photo credit: Julio A De Castro, who blogs at A Bushsnob out of Africa, and Mariana Terra).
Can humans and lions live together? That is the question researchers at the University of Glasgow have been able to answer with a categorical ‘yes’.
‘Humans and lions can coexist through the creation of community conservancies—privately protected areas that engage local people in conservation and ecotourism. These conservancies can help stem the unrelenting loss of lions, whose population has been in decline across Africa, and pose a viable solution to an old problem.
‘The paper, by researchers from the University of Glasgow’s Institute of Biodiversity, Animal Health and Comparative Medicine, the conservation group Living With Lions and the University of Hohenheim’s Biostatistics Unit, shows that lion populations have increased substantially within Kenya’s Masai Mara ecosystem over the last decade, and that the creation of community conservancies, which distributes tourism income to local people, has had the greatest impact on lion survival.
‘The data, published today in the Journal of Applied Ecology, demonstrate that the financial benefits of conservancy membership can help protect the lion population, and even allow it to grow, by changing the local attitudes towards wildlife. . . .
‘Sara Blackburn, lead author of the paper, . . . said: “We know that lion populations are declining right across Africa, but moratoriums on trophy hunting don’t prevent local people from killing lions, and fences stifle ecosystems.
So we looked at the question ‘Are there any scenarios in which lions can live alongside people and their livestock?’
‘There has been a dramatic decline in lion populations in nearly all the areas where lions and people overlap, indicating that habitat fragmentation and human wildlife conflict has been a major driver behind this loss. However, the researchers found that in the Masai Mara conservancies, the opposite effect was occurring—a significant increase in lion survival.
‘Conservancy membership provides households with financial benefits from wildlife tourism and engenders an attitude of coexistence with wildlife. The net effect is that people become more tolerant of lions because they attract tourists and bring an alternative source of income to landowners.
‘Dr Grant Hopcraft, corresponding author on the paper said: “The most important finding in this study is that community conservancies are a viable way to protect wildlife and pose an alternative solution to building fences. If we are concerned about the population of lions, we need to let the people who actually live with the lions benefit from their existence.”’
. . . The research illustrates a very positive finding—community conservation allows people to coexist with wildlife by bringing benefits, not costs, to the people who live alongside it. . . .
The authors provide the following summary statement:
We show that lion densities have increased substantially within the Mara conservancies over the last decade and suggest that the creation of community conservancies has benefitted their survival.
This suggests that lions can survive outside of fenced areas within pastoral regions if communities gain benefits from wildlife.
‘We highlight the importance of expanding existing conservancies beyond their current geographic and political scope and forming buffer zones if wildlife ranges outside them. We suggest that changing attitudes to predators should be a key goal of community-based conservancies. Further work is recommended to identify what specific aspects of conservancy membership promote lion survival.’
Read the whole press release at the University of Glasgow: No fences needed: new research shows humans and lions can coexist, 23 Mar 2016. Joe Ogutu, a co-author of the paper now at the University of Hohenheim, worked for several years at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) on wildlife-livestock-people interactions.
Read the paper in the Journal of Applied Ecology: Human-wildlife conflict, benefit sharing and the survival of lions in pastoralist community-based conservancies, by Sara Blackburn, J Grant C Hopcraft, Joseph Ogutu, Jason Matthiopoul and Laurence Frank, 23 Mar 2015, doi: 10.1111/1365-2664.12632.
Read an article Sara Blackburn on The Applied Ecologist’s Blog: Showing the way for carnivore conservation: lions can survive without fences with the help of Community Conservancies, 23 Mar 2016.