Does Africa have to lose most of its lions and leopards before we start saving them?
For many years there has been a general attitude prevailing (even amongst wildlife authorities) that lions and leopards particularly, as well as other predators, have been able to look after themselves and that some how they would always be around and that wild Africa would allow them to roam freely as they always have. How things have changed!
There are three examples to compare to the lion and leopard situation in Kenya particularly, and also in other African countries that contain wild lion, leopard and other carnivore populations.
Tiger conservation comparison
Firstly, compare wild Tiger populations with those of Lion. For many years the plight of the tiger has been well documented and created much international focus and support. Estimates show there are just 2000 that still alive in the wild. Sadly the lion population in Africa has plummeted so much that tiger populations in India can now be compared to Kenya and its current lion population. Something that was unimaginable twenty years ago.
Secondly the cheetah population in Africa bottomed out at around or below ten thousand over a decade ago. The plight of the cheetah has raised considerable public profile and that wild population has risen slightly in the past decade. (Now estimated at 12,000 to 13,000)
90% decline in lions
Somehow the lion and leopard have been largely ignored in all of this and the wild African lion population, which was estimated at between 150,000-200,000 in the 1980’s, has plummeted in the last two decades to between 18,000 and 25,000 today. It is thought that Kenya holds about 10% of that figure.
Why so little attention?
Do we have to lose many more wild lion and leopards* before anyone pays attention to their plight? Or will anyone pay attention now?
Much spotlight and huge international reaction was drawn to the dreadful elephant and rhino poaching of the 1970’s and 1980’s which resulted in a dramatic turn around. In addressing the appalling losses through poaching of these two species Richard Leakey spearheaded a massive campaign to combat the poaching and also harnessing the huge attention and funding that his efforts and those of many others generated. This all resulted in dramatically reducing the poaching in Kenya, international bans on ivory and rhino horn and species protection policies that are still much in place today where these species exist.
Why can’t this be done today for the predators? Do these incredibly valuable and beautiful species have to be reduced in numbers to where they only exist in National Parks and sanctuaries? Or can they still roam wild and free in large areas like the wildland habitat surrounding Masai Mara?
Importantly the Masai Mara region holds more than one third of the entire lion population of Kenya. This makes it all the more valuable to protect.
*Leopard populations in Africa are very difficult to estimate and count largely because of the types of habitat they exist in and because they live solitary lives. It is a presumed that they have lost considerable numbers similar to lions.
By Ole Nentuala.
Read more at: www.wildlifeextra.com