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World Lion Day 2014

world lion day 2014 flyer

WORLD LION DAY 10 AUGUST

Can you imagine Namibia without Lions, if we had lost all of our lions to persecution, illegal trade and unsustainable off-take?

Some farmers might say good riddance, others may be indifferent, but I am convinced that the majority of Namibians would regret not having done more to ensure the lions’ long-term survival.

World Lion Day, to be celebrated globally on 10 August, is the perfect opportunity for the world to take note of the plight of the African Lion, for us all to take the time to ponder the reality of today’s pressures on wildlife and the wilderness sustaining these wondrous animals who have, to date, stood the test of time – but for how long will they be able to run from Man?


Namibia is 823 680 km2 in size, approx. 40 % thereof comprises Communal Conservancies, Community Forests, State Protected areas and Tourism Concessions. Today, Namibia is one of the fore-runners in Africa regarding conservation and sustainable management of wildlife; by April 2013, a total of 79 Communal Conservancies had been registered, now covering more than 17 % of Namibia’s land area (Nacso website, 2013).

In 1998, the first Communal Conservancy (Nyae-Nyae) set the stage for sustainable use of natural resources, bringing about a rapid change in mind-set amongst rural communities: where previously, residents had no rights to use wildlife which encouraged poaching, reducing the value of wildlife even more; wildlife was seen as threat to livestock grazing areas & crops, infrastructure as well as community safety – this separated people from wildlife and discouraged compatible land use within these wilderness areas.

Since gaining ownership of the wildlife and guidance in sustainable management of their land as well as the wildlife, employment and career opportunities have developed which ensure economic and other benefits from wildlife. Communal Conservancy members have developed a strong sense of pride, where traditional leaders, local game guards and tour guides promote conservation and protection of species such as the Black Rhino and Elephant, not to mention the herds of Mountain Zebra, Oryx and the recently introduced Black-faced Impala to a number of Conservancies by the Ministry of Environment & Tourism.

But where does the Lion fit in – this 'King of the Beasts', primary predator and of the most valuable tourist attraction? What is its status here in Namibia and the rest of Africa and what is there to do to ensure its survival?

male female lionlion grass namibia

Namibia’s wild lion numbers range from between 900 -1500, found only in the Kunene Region, Etosha, in the Caprivi as well as Khaudom Park/Nyae-Nyae Conservancy along Namibia’s border with Botswana. Despite the low numbers, the status of the Namibian lion is regarded by many as 'healthy' – after at least 10 years of above-average rainfall in most parts of Namibia, as well as valuable data collected by researchers it is believed that lion numbers and their distribution have increased in some regions. Tests indicate that the lion populations of the Etosha National Park and Kunene Region are FIV-free (Feline Immuno-deficiency Virus / Feline Aids). The Etosha lion population is assumed to be one of only a few FIV-free (Feline Immuno-deficiency Virus) populations in Africa. This FIV-free status makes the Etosha lion population an extremely important founder population source. No traces of the Canine Distemper Virus (CDV) or Bovine Tuberculosis (BTB) have been detected in either the Kunene or Etosha populations, adding to their value for lion conservation, globally.

Persecution of lions by farmers has, however, continued unabated and with the first drought in years becoming a reality, livestock losses will be even less tolerated and more lions will be destroyed. Human-Wildlife Conflict is ever-present on both communal and commercial farmland, with farmer-lion conflict rife along the borders of Etosha, on surrounding farmland and in a number of communal conservancies.

With the Namibian Lion Management Plan yet to be finalised, guidelines as to best practice regarding long-term lion conservation are not in place in communal conservancies, nor on commercial farms. Trophy hunting quotas are only allocated to Hunting Concessions in Conservancies, where reliable research data is absent in most cases and the methods used to establish these quotas are debatable – black-mane, male lions are naturally favoured as trophies and bring the highest fees to the Conservancy ! Large numbers of lions are trapped, shot and poisoned on farmland annually, with the mandatory reporting of such killings irregular – thus, the official lion mortality figures cannot be regarded as true. A number of farmers, both communal and commercial, will apply for permission to destroy 'problem lions' – how to establish whether the baited lion lined up in a hunter’s telescope is the real problem or the perceived?

Photographic Tourism, we say, will be the lions’ saving grace – to GPS collar a number of lions in those Conservancies lucky enough to be able to offer lion-sightings to their guests, will engender communal farmers to the lion as funds generated by these lodges will filter through the conservancy coffers to those suffering losses . . . . sadly, reports from Conservancy members, game guards as well as tour guides indicate gross corruption in the ranks, with these low-income farmers left to fend for themselves with little or no compensation for their losses.

'A hand-full of lions' teeth and some bones was taken from a mining prospector in one of the Conservancies just recently, having paid a sum of money to a livestock farmer . . . 

okonjima lionslions heads together

An article by Cheryl Lyn Dybas, pasted on the African Lion Working Group website reminds us of the true status of the African Lion: "Vulnerable everywhere in the wild, lions already face regional extinction". The status of the African Lion everywhere is concerning, but the situation in West and Central Africa is alarming: 97 % of the species’ range has been lost. A survey undertaken 2006-2010 by Dr Henschel of Panthera, could only confirm lions in 2 of 12 so-called Lion Conservation Units (LCUs), "there may be no lions left in Congo, Cote d’Ivore and Ghana", in southern Congo and Gabon no residents we spoke to had seen a lion in his or her lifetime; Lions are losing ground across Africa even in the Savannahs of East Africa, human population growth and land-use conversion are the culprits.

According to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, West and Central African lions are classified as Regionally Endangered; lions in Central, East and Southern Africa are listed as VULNERABLE.

So, does the Namibian lion stand a chance? Are we doing all we can to ensure that our lion numbers do not fall so low as to be regarded as "the living dead", as scientists call populations of animals so tiny their extinction is inevitable. Some conservation biologists believe that a century from now or even less, lions may only exist in zoos or small wildlife areas.

The AfriCat Foundation, with bases in central and northern Namibia, believes that there is still time for Namibia’s lions, if we make a concerted, National effort. With programmes including Research, Human-Wildlife Conflict Mitigation and Community Support, our motto "Conservation Through Education" can and will support the long-term survival of our lions.

As Namibians, we should take this quote by Sir Winston Churchill to heart: "I was not the lion, but it fell upon me to give the lion’s roar".

Tammy Hoth – Director AfriCat Foundation.

shavula 18 monthskilimanjaro 2012

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