London | Yes! Human and lions can coexist. Researchers at the University of Glasgow have been able to answer the question that says that humans and lions can coexist through the creation of community conservancies privately protected areas that engage local people in conservation and ecotourism.
These conservancies can help stem the unrelenting loss of lions, whose population has been in decline across Africa, and pose a viable solution to an old problem. The paper, by researchers from the University of Glasgow’s Institute of Biodiversity, Animal Health and Comparative Medicine, the conservation group Living With Lions and the University of Hohenheim’s Biostatistics Unit, shows that lion populations have increased substantially within Kenya’s Masai Mara ecosystem over the last decade, and that the creation of community conservancies, which distributes tourism income to local people, has had the greatest impact on lion survival.
Sara Blackburn, lead author of the paper, tracked lion prides for five years within Kenya’s Masai Mara region, on the northern side of the Serengeti National Park, building up a database of observations using the lions’ whisker spot patterns to identity individuals over time. We know that lion populations are declining right across Africa, but moratoriums on trophy hunting don’t prevent local people from killing lions, and fences stifle ecosystems. So we looked at the question ‘Are there any scenarios in which lions can live alongside people and their livestock?’, she said.
The researchers have found that in the Masai Mara conservancies there was a significant increase in lion survival. Conservancy membership provides households with financial benefits from wildlife tourism and engenders an attitude of coexistence with wildlife. The net effect is that people become more tolerant of lions because they attract tourists and bring an alternative source of income to landowners.
The most important finding in this study is that community conservancies are a viable way to protect wildlife and pose an alternative solution to building fences. If we are concerned about the population of lions, we need to let the people who actually live with the lions benefit from their existence, said Dr Grant Hopcraft, corresponding author on the paper.
The study illustrates that community conservancies are a good strategy for the future protection of lion populations. National wildlife policies should therefore focus on developing opportunities, rights and responsibilities for wildlife conservation outside parks and reserves for private landholders and communities.
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