African lion populations might still exist in theoretical numbers to support their conservation status as “vulnerable” by IUCN standards. But analyses of population structure, geographical fragmentation, risks from inbreeding depression and subsequent loss of evolutionary potential, and probable/actual disease threats, provide many additional causes of concern for the long-term viability of this species.
Pressures on land use from increasing human populations leading to fragmentation of the remaining suitable habitat, coupled with indiscriminate killing in defence of life and livestock, as well as prey base depletion, are recognized as being the principle causes of the decline in lion populations. Trophy hunting is also likely to be contributing to the loss of lions where this practice still continues.
Western countries would like to maintain the biodiversity of African wildlife; African countries are not so sure. They would like to see direct commercial benefit to such maintenance as wildlife populations often enter into direct and significant conflict with communities, their livestock, and agricultural crops. Tourism and trophy hunting are presently the only income generators for countries that maintain wildlife, but such income is currently distributed in ways largely beneficial to the tourism and hunting companies. In other words, the companies reap large benefits and the range countries get peanuts. Communities living alongside dangerous animals, such as lions, usually receive no or negative benefits from their presence.
Despite considerable evidence about the dramatic decline in lion populations across Africa, positive action by range states to halt and perhaps reverse this decline has remained minimal.
WE PROPOSE THAT AFRICAN RANGE STATES:
need to carefully assess their commitment to the survival of the African lion. This will entail a difficult program to balance human population demands against wildlife conservation needs as part of a responsible development approach;
must decide where to conserve lion populations with designated buffer zones or fences to provide secondary levels of protection;
must assume responsibility for monitoring the numbers of lions within their borders and objectively evaluate estimations presented by parties that might have possible vested interests;
should carefully evaluate issued quotas for lion trophy hunting based on a need for long-term conservation of the species rather than short-term financial gain for hunting companies and, minimally, national coffers.
should vigorously prosecute any transgression against wildlife laws without prejudice or influence;
- need to be committed to locally relevant lion conservation programs and report on the objectives, methods and effectiveness of such actions in a transparent fashion. This will entail effort and commitment, but will result in the protection of wildlife habitat with a better chance of long term sustainability.
ALERT, while supporting international recommendations, will also be a demanding proponent for relevant African solutions. After all, it is our wildlife heritage, our need to protect and conserve, and our solutions that will be relevant to how African wildlife populations are responsibly managed in the future.
We are convinced this is the only positive way forward.
The potential for natural re-colonization of free-ranging lion populations is greatly reduced. This, coupled with the cultural shift necessary to realize proposed conservation aims has led ALERT to accept the need for interventionist approaches in wildlife management. This includes assisted lion reintroduction into specific areas. Such areas would include localities where lion populations are: genetically non-viable or functionally / fully extinct, that have been identified as high priority for reestablishment of the species, and where the causes of the original population loss have been identified and are being mitigated.