African lion populations are declining, due to poaching, habitat loss, and poisoning. But there is hope, thanks to the Ewaso Lions organisation created by wildlife conservation researcher Shivani Bhalla. She is working with the Samburu tribe to collect data on lion populations, educate kids, and report poaching.
The main problem is habitat fragmentation: lions need a large area for survival, which includes sufficient prey and places to hide and rest during the day. As the habitat becomes lost or fragmented, their needs drive them into areas frequented by humans, which can lead to conflict as lions eat herd animals and the humans respond by attempting to kill the lions.
But Bhalla says that, due to the different culture of the Samburu people, the warriors are much more open to protecting the lions. In addition, the Ewaso program provides education, training and jobs for local people, as well as tools to protect their livestock and reduce conflict between people and lions: this is an important part of the conservation effort, which can help to create a stable, long-term co-existence between humans and lions.
“Samburu lore indicates that if one’s cow is attacked by a lion, blessings and riches befall that family in all their endeavors. We have found that often the Samburu people would only target lions if they have lost numerous livestock to them. They no longer hunt lions for ceremonial reasons and are beginning to realize their importance to the ecosystem,” Bhalla says, adding that, “[the Samburu] are essential in ensuring a future for lions as they are the ones who know the lions—their whereabouts and their needs.”
Lions are important not only because they’re gorgeous, but also because, as apex predators, they play a vital role in maintaining the health of populations lower down the food chain, and hence the balance of the whole ecosystem.
And, of course, they have very cute cubs. 🙂
[Feature image: Lion cub with mother in the Serengeti. Image by David Dennis, licensed under Creative Commons 2.0]