There is a way to break this relentless cycle. We at Panthera, a big-cat conservation organization, hire locals to protect both livestock and lions. Their first job is to find lions. They do so either by the traditional method of following fresh tracks, or we train them to be para-biologists, skilled in the use of technologies like radio collars and camera traps, motion-triggered cameras that photograph lions and other wildlife as they pass by. Our lion guards keep tabs on big cats so they can chase them away from villages and communities or direct herders to graze their stock elsewhere. We also equip lion guards with training, tools, and funding to reinforce the corrals where livestock is kept overnight, when lions do most of their hunting. The lion guards provide free labor to community members, either improving traditional bomas made with local acacia thorn trees or building entirely new corrals fortified with chain-link fencing and sturdy poles. The new corrals work particularly well to protect large herds where the traditional acacia model is hard-pressed to contain 200 or 300 head of panicked cattle.
Addressing the underlying reasons that compel pastoralists to hate lions dramatically reduces their inclination to resort to bullets or poison. We went from 20 dead lions in 2013 to only one last year when we launched the program in a particularly bad conflict hot spot in northern Namibia. In communities adjacent to Zimbabwe's magnificent Hwange National Park, where Cecil lived, only nine lion guards working with Panthera's partners, Oxford University's Hwange Lion Project, managed to reduce the number of killed cattle from 260 in 2010 to 73 by 2014. Living lions are the reason that we employ people-no lions, no jobs-giving people in local communities further incentive to tolerate big cats.
Dr. Luke Hunter, Mustapha Nsubuga, and Joel Ziwa fit a radio collar on a lioness at Kigezi Wildlife Reserve in Uganda. Photo by A. Plumptre/WCS