Lion numbers in Africa have collapsed by 30-50% in the last 20 years. In 2011 no more than 32,000 lions were thought to exist, although some research puts the figure considerably lower than this. There are a variety of reasons for this dramatic decline, but significantly, lions are losing habitat, resulting in increased conflict with local communities, especially those with livestock-based livelihoods living in or adjacent to lion habitats.
Kenya’s lions occur across an estimated 19% of the country including significant areas outside of formally protected sites such as National Parks and Nature Reserves. In 2013 best estimates from the Kenya Wildlife Service suggested that roughly 2,000 lions remain. It is therefore vital that effective conservation solutions are implemented, especially in collaboration with local communities and with the participation of the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS).
Conflict is often highest in areas where livestock is lost to lions and other predators. Since 2010, Born Free has been implementing, hand-in-hand with local communities and other local charities*, a programme aimed at reducing such conflict through promoting the construction of lion-proof bomas to keep lions and other predators away from livestock when they are kraaled at night. Traditionally, livestock are protected at night within thorn ‘fences’, but these barriers are no match for a determined lion or hyena. The result of any subsequent livestock losses is often the retaliatory killing of the predators come day-break.
With an initial focus on a number of group ranches adjacent to Amboseli National Park in Kenya, the lion-proof boma programme is being expanded. In the northern Kenya region of Samburu, Born Free is also supporting the Ewaso Lions project to pilot other approaches aimed at mitigating conflict between communities and predators. These include the adoption of mobile predator-proof bomas and the development of various light systems that mimic the presence of cattle guards within the boma at night, permitting families to get a good night sleep and livestock to be better protected.
The importance of lions to the Kenyan tourism sector is immense, and Born Free’s Kenyan team also create opportunities to persuade young Maasai warriors and others not to follow the traditional process of killing a wild lion to prove their strength and prowess. In support of developing wider awareness of the need for lion conservation, we also continue to use of the Lion Guardians’ film ‘living with lions’. The film explains in the Masai language how pastoralist communities in other areas, such as Laikipia, have been able to minimise lion-livestock conflict in their areas and how this success could be replicated in other areas bringing important benefits to local communities, and to wild lions.
Our core partnership with KWS continues to develop and all the actions we undertake in the field correspond to priorities identified by KWS in their National Lion and Spotted Hyena Conservation Strategy (2009-2014). Opportunities to more widely promote conflict mitigation approaches such as lion-proof bomas are being further explored, and since 2014 Born Free has returned to its roots in the Meru-Kora landscape – where Elsa was released - with the long-term objective of safe-guarding the lion population there. In 2016, Born Free and KWS conducted a survey to estimate the size of the lion population, the results of which will form an important baseline for monitoring the population as conservation actions continue to be implemented.
* Africa Expeditions & Safari; African Wildlife Foundation; Eden Wildlife Trust; Humane Society International Australia; HSH Princess Charlene of Monaco; John West; Land Rover and Nigel Rowley