Conservation in the Spotlight: Leo Foundation – Lions, skilled predators of wild and domestic prey

October 2009

**This article originally appeared on zoocrew.eu as part of our Conservation Awareness project. **

Lions in West-Africa behave differently than their conspecifics in the South and Eastern region of the continent. Findings proven by research projects supported by the Leo Foundation.

Leo Foundation

Leo Foundation

The Leo Foundation is a Dutch organization whose goal it is to save lions and other large carnivores in Africa and India through the funding of local projects and active participation of lion research through lion collaring operations and advice. The foundation was established in April 2008 and currently supports three research and conservation projects in Benin, Cameroon and Kenya and in addition supports regional activities for lion conservation in West Africa.

The main objectives of the conservation projects is to mitigate lion-livestock conflicts by improved boma construction (were the livestock is kept at night), consolation schemes for lost livestock by lion attacks and increased benefits for local communities from national parks. Objectives of the associated studies supported by the Leo foundation are to gain insight in the lion movements and home ranges, lion behaviour and the inevitable interactions with humans as lions and other wildlife lose more and more of their natural habitat to people. Knowing how lions use their habitat enables us to find adequate measures of protection against lion attacks.

The Leo Foundation also supports the protection of other large carnivores as well and as such investigate the interaction lions have with for example leopard, hyaena and cheetah.

Adaptations of a predator

Different habitat asks for different ways of living your life. Lions are no exception. West-African lions hunt in couples while lions in southern and east Africa more often catch prey when hunting in large(r) groups. Findings recorded from research funded by the Leo Foundation in collaboration with Leiden University amongst others showed that this behaviour is due to smaller prey species in West-Africa, plus different natural surroundings with more open grass savannas in Eastern Africa and more tree savannas in West-Africa. Prey as zebra’s and wildebeest don’t live in the West.

Lions primarily hunt on kob-antelope and wart hog, prey species that don’t require large groups to hunt them down. Plus there won’t be enough food for all lions to feed upon. However in many parks in West and central Africa lions are confronted with declining prey numbers. This is the case in national parks like Comoe NP in Ivory Coast, Yangkari Game reserve in North Nigeria and Waza NP in North Cameroon. In these parks lions switch to raiding livestock and often are then killed by livestock owners in retaliation. In a lion conservation project in Waza NP supported by the Leo Foundation, three research lions were killed during the past year. The lion population in Waza NP is now on the brink of extinction.

Lions in Pendjari National Park, Benin

Studies in West-Africa

During the research supported by the Leo Foundation carcasses of prey species in parks in Tchad, Senegal, Benin and Cameroon were compared. Our findings agree with findings of biology students of Leiden who looked at lion faeces in Cameroon. By studying the hairs in the faeces, they also concluded that lions in West-Africa eat smaller prey species.

As natural prey become scarcer, lions have to leave their territory in search of food. This causes conflicts with local people. In the North of Cameroon male lions leave Waza National Park during the wet season in June and migrate/ travel along with cattle herds up to 40 kilometers away from their known territory. Lions kill about 2 to 6 percent of the cattle, which means income loss for the already poor cattle farmers. In retaliation of lions attacking cattle, people kill lions. Three of five retraceable GPS/radio-collared lions are killed by people. The cut-off collars were found near villages, hanging up a tree.

Amboseli National Park, Kenya

In Kenya, conflicts between animals and people are also a big issue. Here, the Leo Foundation is involved in a collaboration project with Kenya Wildlife Services (KWS) around Amboseli National Park. The Park is completely surrounded by Masai, a community of warriors. To become a man, it is tradition amongst the Masai to spear a lion. And, as in the Cameroonian study lions are killed in retaliation of attacking livestock. Thus, lions that appear near Masai settlements are killed more quickly than in Cameroon.

As lions are a huge tourist attraction, Kenyan government tries to keep lions to their assigned but restricted areas and lion populations up to the mark. Because if local people keep killing lions, the government looses a significant source of income.

With support of the Leo Foundation five lions have been GPS/radio-collared in Amboseli National Park between July 2007 and August 2008. We saw that the animals left the Park in November and December in 2007 and 2008. During this time, the researchers got reports of conflicts from the local people. The collars have an SMS function which enables researchers to alert local Masai that lions are in their vicinity. This tool is directly beneficial for Masai during ongoing research and provides researchers with a way of informing local people about lions in their awareness campaigns.

GPS/Radio collaring of lion

Human-lion conflict study

In the last years a study was performed in Cameroon to better control human-lion conflict with livestock owners. This study was coordinated by a local NGO (CEDC) who carried out case studies for compensation and conflict management with cattle owners in Benin, Niger, Guinee Conakry and Cameroon.

It is our intention to execute such a programme in Kenya through KWS that will focus on compensating Masai, in areas where Amboseli lions are proved to have caused damage, for losses due to predation by lions.

This article has been provided by: Marjolein Schoe and Hans de Iongh from the Leo Foundation

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