Conserving the "King of the Beasts"
Africa is home to numerous iconic species of wildlife, but perhaps no other animal captures the majesty and indomitable spirit of the African wilderness quite like Pathera leo (the African lion). It may be hard for anyone who has been on safari to imagine the African savanna without these sleek predators, or the sound of an African night without the distant sound of roaring, but this is the sad reality across most of the lion's traditional home range, and even the core lion populations of southern and East Africa are increasingly under threat.
Recent surveys indicate that lions have suffered 30-50% population reduction just over the past 20 years, prompting the IUCN to classify lions as a Threatened Species. There are currently an estimated 23,000-28,000 lions across the entire continent - when compared with roughly 500,000 elephants (a species that enjoys a very high profile conservations status), it places the lion's plight in perspective.
Lions are highly conspicuous predators that pose serious personal and economic threats to the communities that live in and adjacent to lion habitat. One of the major challenges to lion conservation is that relatively little is currently understood about the reasons behind the dramatic population decline; a general dearth of knowledge exists regarding lion dynamics and most African countries don't even have comprehensive management plans for lion conservation.
With this in mind, Classic Africa was pleased to be offered the opportunity to join the Wilderness Trust and Panthera Foundation in funding a lion research project in Zambia's Kafue National Park, scheduled to begin in 2010. At nearly 17 million acres, the greater Kafue Park, which includes the so-called Game Management Areas (GMAs) that surround the Park, is one of the largest protected areas in Africa. It is also one of 66 critical ecosystems across the continent identified by the IUCN as being essential to the future viability of the African lion. The study will track three prides of lion (two in different habitats inside the Park, and one in an adjoining GMA, where villagers farm cattle and sport hunting of lions is permitted) to learn more about lion density and dynamics in these contrasting settings.
The head researcher, Neil Midlane, will be based at Kapinga Camp on the Busanga Plains, and will try to meet in person with all Classic Africa clients staying at any of the three camps on the Busanga Plains (Shumba, Kapinga, and Busanga Bush Camp). We will also keep readers updated via future editions of Classic Africa news as to progress that the researchers are making.
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