There is no sound more distinctive and bone-chilling than a lion roaring in the night, informing all that can hear that they are guests in his kingdom. These majestic and regal creatures bring travellers from all over the world to Africa’s game parks, like Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe and Chobe National Park in Botswana, and are usually at the top of their must-see lists. An encounter with a lion in the wild is one you’ll never forget. Spotting one of these beautiful beasts while out in an open-top safari vehicle is a stark reminder of your own mortality, knowing that one wrong move by you could cause the beast to strike and with one swipe of his paw or the crush of his jaw do some serious damage if he were so inclined. While it would seem this apex predator should have nothing to fear, sadly their numbers are fast declining and it is us who are their biggest and only threat… and potential savior.
Lion population decline
In the past two decades, the number of wild lions in Africa has plummeted by roughly 40 percent. Some estimates put current numbers as low as 20 000 in Southern Africa, with more conservative estimates calculating that the number is close to 12 000. Lions are now listed as vulnerable on the IUCN Red List. A century ago there were around 200 000 lions but now only a tenth remains. What has caused such a devastatingly drastic decline? Unfortunately, all threats to lions are human-based with the top four being habitat loss, trophy hunting, poaching, and human-lion conflict. There are currently more lions in captivity than there are in the wild. Unless urgent action is taken, one day there may be none left. Numerous organisations in the tourism and conservation industries have identified this as a concerning issue and are focused on tackling it in effective and targeted ways. They do this by establishing the specific threats in their region and determining how best to combat them.
Lion habitat loss, bushmeat poaching, and human-lion conflict
Human encroachment is the largest threat to lions’ existence. The grasslands where they roam are decreasing in size by the day, instead providing fodder for cattle and other livestock, or disappearing due to urbanization. A solution is desperately needed for humans and wildlife to coexist. Game reserves provide the best protection for animals in Africa and as long as they are financially viable, providing employment and stimulating the economy they are an incredibly valuable tool for conservationists as well as the citizens of the countries they are found in. Regarding agricultural expansion conservationists are working closely with communities to focus on education and prevention, teaching better animal husbandry practices and raising funds for reinforced fencing and other preventative measures. Regrettably, bushmeat poaching is on the increase throughout Africa.
Poachers typically use snares, a wire noose that is placed along trail lines, trapping and killing any animal above a certain size. This indiscriminate way of killing has devastating effects. The snare is an almost flawless killing machine: practical, inexpensive, lightweight, simple to make, easy to set up, silent and virtually impossible to escape. These snares are increasingly being found across areas where humans and wildlife coexist. Devastatingly, more and more lions are falling prey to these snares, both intentionally and unintentionally. Conservation organizations and game park employees are working to clear them as fast as they can, some lodges even provide it as an activity for their guests who want to make a difference.
Lion bone trade
A lucrative market for lion poachers is the Lion Bone trade. As the Chinese have recognized the need for tiger conservation, they have found an alternative: lion bones, believing it to have the same medicinal effects. Recently the South African government made the controversial decision to allow the export of 800 skeletons of lions bred in captivity, arguing that if the trade was prohibited people would simply look elsewhere and resort to poaching lions in the wild. Conservationists argue that this is essentially driving up demand which also motivates poaching, and they are fighting to make their voices heard.
Lion trophy hunting
Trophy hunting remains a hotly contested issue, with proponents proclaiming it fuels conservation by protecting large areas of land from human encroachment and channeling money to conservation projects. However, detractors insist that the conservation benefits are minimal or even non-existent. They also believe that demand is fueled by the byproducts of trophy hunting such as skins, bones, and other materials finding their way onto the black market. In Zimbabwe, including around Hwange, hunting is not allowed in the national parks but nearby concessions are another story. Unscrupulous hunter guides are luring the lions out of the parks in order to obtain their trophy, which some say was the case with Cecil the lion.
Lions on safari
Our lodges and safari experiences in Zimbabwe and Botswana have been hand-selected to guarantee life-changing experiences, including unforgettable encounters with lions. Elephant’s Eye is located on a private concession bordering Hwange National Park while Nantwich is positioned in the wild northern sector of the park. Mogotlho Safari Lodge is bordered by Chobe National Park and Moremi Game Reserve and Camp Kuzuma lies amid the magnificent wildlife corridor between Chobe and Hwange National Parks. These safari areas are renowned for exceptional natural encounters of the up close and personal kind.