A Roaring Sound of Hope for Lions
August 10, 2018
A male lion gets a better vantage point from a tree in northern Tanzania. (Photo: African People & Wildlife/Dr. Laly Lichtenfeld)
I remember a time when the roars of lions reverberated throughout Tanzania’s Tarangire ecosystem. When my husband, Charles Trout, and I first began work here in 2000 as part of my Ph.D. research program, we heard the lions roar almost every night—often from several different directions. Even though human-wildlife conflict levels in the region were high, established prides still existed and competed with each other for dominance.
Over the years that followed, the roars at night grew fainter in communal areas until they practically disappeared altogether. All too often, our team was called to the scene of a conflict to find that a lion had been speared or poisoned in retaliation for attacking a family’s livestock.
Elvis Kisimir, APW Human-Wildlife Conflict Program Officer, discovers a lion killed by poisoning in a communal area in 2010. (Photo: African People & Wildlife/Losioki Surtutu)
We co-founded African People & Wildlife (APW) in 2005 and began to rally support for lions among the local communities. To help keep lions safe, we partnered with the Maasai people to pilot the first Living Wall in 2008. By 2010, we installed 39 more across the Maasai Steppe. With the help of our supporters—including a partnership with the National Geographic Big Cats Initiative that began that year—we were gradually able to bring our Living Walls and other human-wildlife conflict prevention programs to scale across this landscape and initiate them in new areas. As more Living Walls were built, human-wildlife conflict levels decreased and local attitudes toward living alongside lions improved.
Our work in this landscape has grown into one of the largest lion recovery efforts in East Africa. Today, thanks to the dedication and commitment of our team, partners, local community members, and supporters, I’m thrilled to say that the lion population in the Tarangire ecosystem is showing signs of a comeback. In the following sections, I will share with you the significance of this recovery, the forces that are driving it, the latest lion population estimates, and an exciting announcement about our next steps.
At APW, our job is not only to protect this lion population but to recover it. By doing so, we can ensure the biological integrity of the ecosystem while positively influencing genetic connectivity among some of East Africa’s most remarkable lion populations.
Young lions play in the Tarangire ecosystem. (Video: African People & Wildlife/Felipe Rodriguez)
Ensuring the Future of a Critical Lion Population
Northern Tanzania is among the last remaining lion strongholds in the world. However, lions across this incredible landscape face a wide range of threats. Poor rangeland management practices that impact wild prey species, human population growth, agricultural expansion, and livestock-carnivore conflict challenge the future of big cats and particularly lions.
In this region, lions within the Tarangire ecosystem have been impacted heavily by these threats. Representing an area of approximately 12,000 square kilometers, the Tarangire ecosystem includes Tarangire National Park, Lake Manyara National Park, and two of APW’s conservation landscapes—Maasai Steppe and Lake Burunge-Manyara. Here, the lions move extensively outside of protected areas, often following their wild prey during the wet seasons and interacting with pastoral and agricultural communities. At APW, our job is not only to protect this lion population but to recover it. By doing so, we can ensure the biological integrity of the ecosystem while positively influencing genetic connectivity among some of East Africa’s most remarkable lion populations.
Lion cubs rest in a tree in northern Tanzania. (Photo: African People & Wildlife/Dr. Laly Lichtenfeld)
Creating a World Where People and Lions Thrive Together
Our human-wildlife conflict prevention programs are both successful and sustainable because they achieve conservation gains on multiple levels. For example, Living Walls represent a triple win for conservation. Co-designed with the Maasai people, they save over 150 lions annually, positively impact 13,500 people on a daily basis, and add tens of thousands of trees to the landscape each year. When people and habitats thrive, lions can thrive too.
Pastoralist communities face considerable economic loss when their livestock are killed. A recent study on the social impacts of human-wildlife conflict resolution indicated that 94 percent of Living Wall owners have improved their livelihoods as a result of securing their livestock. The research also found that local attitudes toward living alongside lions are becoming more positive.
Living Walls protect livestock and uplift livelihoods in northern Tanzania. (Photos: African People & Wildlife/Felipe Rodriguez)
Our Warriors for Wildlife team also works to save lions. These conservation champions provide rapid response to human-wildlife conflict events, collecting and analyzing real-time data from the field on livestock attacks, Living Wall requests, and evidence of the presence of large carnivores. In the community of Loibor Siret, the data shows that livestock attacks at the homestead decreased by 90 percent as more Living Walls were built. No lions have been killed in the community since 2015.
In the community of Loibor Siret, livestock attacks at the homestead dropped by 90 percent between 2005 and 2017 as more Living Walls were built.
This lioness was photographed by a motion-triggered camera in the community of Loibor Siret. (Photo: African People & Wildlife)
Warriors for Wildlife also recover lost livestock at pasture, alert community members to the presence of lions, and work to change long-held negative believes about living with wildlife. In 2017, the Warriors prevented 14 retaliation attempts against lions across our conservation landscapes.
APW Warrior for Wildlife Joshua Loserian helps to protect lions and uplift communities near Tarangire National Park. (Video: African People & Wildlife/Felipe Rodriguez)
Today, there are more than 950 Living Walls and 50 Warriors for Wildlife protecting lions. We look forward to continue scaling these programs across our six conservation landscapes.
Monitoring an Increase in Lion Presence
In addition to APW’s work conserving and monitoring lions within the Tarangire ecosystem, the Tarangire Lion Project has been researching the lion population within Tarangire National Park since 2003. Their study also follows lions that utilize areas outside the park, including Lolkisale Game Controlled Area, Manyara Ranch Conservancy, Randilen Wildlife Management Area, and the Burunge Wildlife Management Area.
“There is a clear seasonal movement of lions between Tarangire National Park and the adjacent communal areas. Over the past few years, some lions appear to be reestablishing residence by spending several months in these areas, including Burunge. The presence of resident prides in communal areas could be attributed to the ongoing conservation efforts being implemented in these places to protect habitat and promote carnivore conservation.”
DR. BERNARD KISSUI, TARANGIRE LION PROJECT
The Tarangire Lion Project’s monitoring data suggests an overall declining trend between 2003 and 2012: Lions identified in their study area fell from approximately 220 in 2004 to less than 130 in 2011. However, preliminary evidence from 2012 onward suggests a reversal of this trend, with 160 lions counted in the same area in 2015. Today, the Tarangire Lion Project estimates that the current total lion population of their study area likely exceeds more than 250 individuals.
This collared lioness belongs to one of 10 prides being monitored by the Tarangire Lion Project. (Photo: Tarangire Lion Project/Deo Tarimo)
While the data is still preliminary, these results are extremely encouraging. According to Dr. Bernard Kissui, Director of the Tarangire Lion Project, “There is a clear seasonal movement of lions between Tarangire National Park and the adjacent communal areas. Over the past few years, some lions appear to be reestablishing residence by spending several months in these areas, including Burunge. The presence of resident prides in communal areas could be attributed to the ongoing conservation efforts being implemented in these places to protect habitat and promote carnivore conservation.”
In the Lake Manyara-Burunge landscape, livestock attacks at the homestead declined between 2015 and 2017 as more Living Walls were built.
Joining Forces to Maximize Lion Recovery
On today’s World Lion Day, I’m proud to announce that we will increase our momentum by joining forces with the Tarangire Lion Project. Thanks to a generous grant from the Wildlife Conservation Network’s Lion Recovery Fund, this new and exciting partnership will enhance coordination in the real-time prevention of lion-livestock conflict, expand the geographic coverage of our community-driven rangeland protection work, and provide the Tarangire Lion Project with opportunities to monitor lions over a larger landscape.
The Lion Recovery Fund, an initiative launched by the Wildlife Conservation Network and the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation, aims to catalyze investment in the most effective efforts by conservationists in the field who are working to reverse the decline of lions in the wild.
“The Lion Recovery Fund is excited to support the new collaboration between African People & Wildlife and the Tarangire Lion Project. The Tarangire ecosystem is an essential one for lions, and this collaboration will help to secure the rangelands adjacent to the park, upon which the functionality of the whole system depends. APW and TLP both have impressive teams of professionals and as with any good partnership, the whole has potential to be much greater than the sum of the parts," said Peter A. Lindsey, Director of the Lion Recovery Fund.
As we continue to build on the success of our conflict-prevention work, we’re also focused on securing abundant habitat and prey so that lions can thrive well into the future. The valued support from the Lion Recovery Fund and other partners will allow us to expand our Sustainable Rangelands Initiative, which works hand in hand with rural communities to ensure that vital grasslands remain open and flourishing for people and wildlife. The project is generating visible and exciting results, including increased grass height, reduced areas of bare ground, and the return of important plant and wildlife species to community-managed grazing areas.
APW staff work with community rangeland monitors to collect data such as grass height and the percentage of bare ground. (Photo: African People & Wildlife/Felipe Rodriguez)
Remaining Vigilant in Our Efforts to Protect Lions
Over the past few years, we’ve begun to hear lions’ roars resound in the night once again. Their voices aren’t as numerous or frequent as they were all those years ago, but APW’s commitment to recovering this iconic species remains stronger than ever.
Of course, as more lions return to the region, we must remain vigilant in our efforts to prevent conflict with the people who share this extraordinary landscape with them. We value your continued support as we move forward on this meaningful journey. Together, we will ensure that the lion endures as a balancing force in the ecosystem and a symbol of strength and resilience for Africa and our world as a whole.