Born Free Foundation - Keep Wildlife in the Wild

Emergency Relocation of a Lion in Cameroon

Read Dr Hans Bauer’s first hand report on international efforts to capture and relocate ‘conflict lions’ in Cameroon.

‘The information we had from Cameroon was ‘’four lions appeared in Kalfou Forest Reserve in March and have been killing cattle ever since’’. With the cooperation of the Born Free Foundation, Oxford University’s Wildlife Conservation Research Unit (WildCRU), Cameroon Ministry of Forests and Wildlife, Garoua Wildlife College, Leo Foundation and Southern Cross Wildlife Services, I organised an operation to move them to Waza National Park, 120km north of Kalfou.

Upon my arrival in Cameroon last week, I organised all the logistics and undertook the first field visit to find out more about the situation. It turned out there were only two lions, but they moved around a lot, that’s why people had assumed there were four.  The Far North Region of Cameroon is more or less in a state of emergency, with a curfew and armed escorts for those foreigners ignoring the advice of their embassies not to go to this area. We were 100km away from Boko Haram, close enough to be worried but far enough to do this translocation responsibly. Just to be sure, we had two ‘body guards’.

When we arrived in Kalfou, we were allocated the only scout in the reserve to guide us on his motorbike. The reserve doesn’t have any roads, only bicycle tracks, so he was leading the way on his bike and where necessary we opened up a track. However, in most places the savannah is quite open and it was easy enough to drive through. When we got to the first village we greeted the men and after a minute of casual conversation without obvious enthusiasm, we mentioned the purpose of our visit. At that point an old man got up with a huge smile and started singing and dancing; finally someone will relieve them from those lions who are eating their cattle all the time. That was a great moment, where I realised that the lions were really there and they really did need to be moved!

Lion relocation team

We went round the reserve, put out camera traps and looked for footprints. We spent the night with a farmer, in a hut sleeping on the ground, eating the chicken that they prepared for us as a sign of hospitality (eating meat is a luxury in these remote villages). We decided to make this our base and returned here later with the entire team.

Upon arrival of Dr Murray Stokoe, a South African vet specialised in lion immobilisation, we went back to Kalfou with four cars, each car carrying a specially designed lion crate. We had staff from the ministry to monitor the operation, people from the wildlife college to learn how to do it in future, scouts and local trackers. As biologist and team leader, it was my job to find the lions and create an opportunity for the vet to shoot his dart. That proved to be very challenging, as it soon transpired that these lions moved a lot and were very skittish. Since they eat cattle and are in conflict with people, they are also very smart in avoiding people and they did not respond to the calling stations that I had set up the first two nights. When we checked for footprints before and after the first two nights, we realised that we had to change our strategy.

In the forest, we attached a smelly two day old sheep carcass to a tree.  We then put one of the lion crates at a distance of 15 meters, with the vet inside!, and then went back to the village. After five hours of waiting, the lions finally came to the bait, and the vet was able to dart one of them. By now, the other lion had probably realised what was happening, and for two hours didn’t come back. We then decided to try and find him with the cars, and followed him for some time through the forest, but unfortunately never had a chance to dart him. Time ran out before we could find him and we had to leave. Sadly, this leaves an uncertain future for this lion who, if he returns to take further livestock could mean him being killed by the villagers.

At midnight, we returned to the sleeping lion. When we approached he got up, dizzy but dangerous, so we gave him another dart. When he was down, we checked him, fitted a radio-collar, and moved him into a crate. The vet injected the antidote and we closed the crate and drove back to the village. In the village, the entire population was curious and happy, they all came to congratulate and thank us.

Sleeping lion

Finally we set off to Maroua, the regional capital, to get fuel and to get organised for the release. Since the release is in an area where foreigners are not allowed to go, we did a last check on the lion and then sent a team of Cameroonians to drive to the release site. When they opened the crate, the lion gently jumped out and walked off into the savannah.

Before the operation, I visited the governor and he was very interested, he was surprised that people were capable of lion translocation and he promised his full support. He requested that we pass by his office on our way to Waza, unfortunately that wasn’t practical, so instead we gave the lion his name, Awa’.

truck and lion
Born Free Foundation
Broadlands Business Campus, Langhurstwood Road
, Horsham, RH12 4QP, UK - Charity Reg. No. 1070906

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