The research by the University of Glasgow’s Institute of Biodiversity, Animal Health and Comparative Medicine, the conservation group Living With Lions and the University of Hohenheim’s Biostatistics Unit, shows that lion populations have increased substantially within Kenya’s Masai Mara ecosystem over the last decade, and that the creation of community conservancies, which distributes tourism income to local people, has had the greatest impact on lion survival.
The lion population across Africa has been in decline, and the animals are often killed in retaliation for the significant cost of loss of livestock in rural communities.
However, the study published in the Journal of Applied Ecology demonstrates the financial benefits of conservancy membership can help protect the lion population, and even allow it to grow, by changing the local attitudes towards wildlife.
Sara Blackburn, lead author of the paper, tracked lion prides for five years within Kenya’s Masai Mara region, on the northern side of the Serengeti National Park, building up a database of observations using the lions’ whisker spot patterns to identity individuals over time.
She said, “We know that lion populations are declining right across Africa, but moratoriums on trophy hunting don’t prevent local people from killing lions, and fences stifle ecosystems. So we looked at the question ‘Are there any scenarios in which lions can live alongside people and their livestock?’”
Dr Grant Hopcraft, corresponding author on the paper said, “The most important finding in this study is that community conservancies are a viable way to protect wildlife and pose an alternative solution to building fences. If we are concerned about the population of lions, we need to let the people who actually live with the lions benefit from their existence.”
Dr Laurence Frank, director of Living With Lions, added, “Due to rapid human population growth, wildlife has been in free-fall across most of Africa. Only local people can reverse the downward spiral, and this study shows that profits from tourism can motivate rural people to tolerate rather than eliminate wild animals.”
University of Glasgow: ‘No fences needed: new research shows humans and lions can coexist‘