I took a trip to the Pilanesberg National Park with the Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT) to learn about lion conservation in Africa ahead of World Lion Day on 10 August. Here are five facts about this big cat.
1. Prides vary in size
Lions are the most sociable of the big cats and are known to live in prides that range from 2 to 30 members. This, however, is dependent on how much food is available. When males are excluded from their birth pride, they might band together and form a coalition as opposed to a pride; usually they do this with other closely related males from the same group.
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2. Lions play a role in maintaining a delicate balance
Lions are a keystone species in the ecosystem because they help to control the populations of browsers and grazers. They like to dine on wildebeest, zebra, buffalo, gemsbok and giraffe, and have been known to prey upon warthogs, porcupines and small reptiles.
3. Lions are categorised as Vulnerable by the International Union of Nature for Conservation (IUCN)
The IUCN’s Red List has declared that lions are Vulnerable and according to EWT, the wild lion population in Africa has halved in the last 25 years. EWT’s Conservation Science Unit Lion Database Coordinator Sam Page-Nicholson says that some parts of Africa have seen a decrease of 43% over three lion generations while others have experienced population extinctions.
Thankfully through the efforts of organisations like the EWT and its African Lion Database, we are slowly seeing a recovery in wild lion populations. Sam and her team are collecting data from around the continent to find out just how many there are and where they are located. According to EWT, the wild lion population in South Africa is on the increase, but we are running out of space for them to keep roaming free. There have also been sightings across the continent in places that were thought to no longer have a lion population; these include Cameroon, Angola, Malawi and on the Kenya-Tanzania border.
4. There are 5 main issues impacting our wild lion populations
These are the loss of habitat, loss of prey, poaching, political instability such as poor governance and war, and farmers using poison on their livestock. In Kenya, Sam and her team have seen cases where lions are being poisoned by farmers because there is very little fencing around the country’s parks.
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5. Lions can live pretty much anywhere
These diverse creatures are pretty adaptable living in thick bush, open woodlands and even in the desert. The EWT can confirm that there is a small pride of lions living in Namibia who have been able to adapt to the harsh conditions.
Keeping lions wild and free
The EWT launched its Wild ‘n Free campaign over a year ago which advocates for lions and other carnivores to remain in their natural habitat. The campaign highlights the EWT’s fight against keeping lions, cheetah, leopards and African wild dogs in captive environments for petting, walking-with, photo-tourism, captive hunting and the trade in their body parts.
EWT says a Wild ‘n Free environment is one where a carnivore does not have to rely on humans for their daily needs, are able to hunt prey and can engage in other natural behaviours such as mating, holding territories and interacting with competitors.
Photography Massimo Da Silva