Lions are iconic and we must fight to protect them

10 August 2022


On World Lion Day, Caroline Ng’weno, Pride of Meru Programme Manager at Born Free Kenya, reveals her passion for lions, and urges people to protect them, before it’s too late.

African lions are the top of the food chain, and no African scene is complete without the iconic African lion.

Caroline Ng’weno

Just the mere sight of a lion is awe-inspiring. Without a doubt, the lion is the world’s most iconic species, an enduring symbol of strength and majesty. Lions are loved, revered, and respected by people and cultures around the world, and hard to believe that we balance on the brink of seeing the last of this magnificent creature.

I am passionate about lions, and throughout my professional career as an ecologist, I have found great learning and valuable perspectives from field observation of lions. Lions teach us all a thing or two; for example, they nap in the blazing afternoon heat allowing them to conserve energy until they need it most for the hunt. The great insight is that it is ok to simply take a break from the frenetic pace of life. Additionally, they are perhaps the most sociable of the big cats; they stick together in their pride. Most importantly, they take failure in strides, while hunting lions often miss the mark when pursuing their prey; they keep trying until they have a successful hunt. Both these are valuable lessons in life, and always a great reminder that we can approach various life experiences from the lion’s perspective.

Working as a wildlife ecologist for the past 14 years, understandably, I have become a bit obsessed with lions. This experience has given me a rare insight to learn about lions and an opportunity to work with local people who live alongside predators. Through these experiences, I have been able to learn more about lions and I have always thought I had lions all figured out.  However, every day is full of surprises while working with these amazing animals. The lions have always kept me on my toes, and I have come to embrace the phrase “expect the unexpected”.

While, working as a wildlife ecologist across various landscapes in Kenya and in the US, I have come to realize that many people around the world are unaware of the sad fact that the global lion population is in a worrying decline. Over the last century the lion has lost about 82% of its former distribution range. Today it is estimated that approximately 20,000 lions are left in the wild.

World Lion Day is a reminder that we must all contribute towards saving lions because they need our attention, time and lots of protection.

Kenya is proud to be home to the African lions, and its lion population is now estimated at 2,489 individuals. While in, Meru NP we pride ourselves of a stable population of 72 lions living within the national park. They are closely monitored by our dedicated POM field team in collaboration with our partners WRTI, KWS, and Meru guides who are part of our Safari Science initiative.

Even though, they are the top predators, their lives are threatened by expanding human populations and the resulting agricultural development and human settlement. Consequently, conservation areas are patchy isolated due to habitat destruction. All over Africa, the dramatic decline of the lion is mainly due to an increasing conflict between wildlife and humans over space. As lion habitats shrink, the big cats are being forced into closer proximity with humans. This, coupled with a decrease in their natural prey, causes them to attack livestock. In turn, pastoralists oftentimes retaliate and kill these big majestic cats.

At Pride of Meru we aim to preserve and safeguard lions from the multiple threats they face. Through our ongoing monitoring we strive to gain an understanding on lion population, movement, and interaction with people in order to develop appropriate conservation actions.  We also recognize the crucial role that communities play in the conservation of lions, and the need of ensuring coexistence between lions and people while implementing impactful mitigation strategies at a meaningful scale.

Early this year we recruited 10 conservation ambassadors drawn from the communities residing in lion conflict hotspot areas that are adjacent to Meru NP. The ambassadors are a crucial link to the community, and together we work with communities to help them realize the importance of lions and build goodwill for communities to embrace coexistence with this apex predator and other conservation initiatives across communities.

Through collaborations and partnerships with key stakeholder within the landscape we work towards promoting better management of natural habitats, deliver innovative conservation solutions guided by sound science, and educate communities on the vital role of the lions in the Meru ecosystem.

Lions are running out of space and time; please join us in celebrating #World Lion Day 2022, to honour the ultimate heroes of our ecosystem. Let’s rally to give a voice to the issues threatening lion conservation and combine all our efforts on August 10 for World Lion Day 2022.