There are three components to our African Lion Project.
- Increase public awareness and knowledge of the African lion by producing a large format, coffee table styled book.
funds to help researchers and conservation managers find sustainable
solutions to current lion conservation problems. Our book on the
African Wild Dog (In Search of the African Wild Dog), which almost sold
out within a year of being published, helped raise awareness of the
plight of the wild dog. As a direct result of this, Roger’s cousin,
Vaughan de la Harpe, along with several other experienced mountaineers,
climbed Mt Everest in aid of these endangered animals. They took
Frikkie along with them. Frikkie? A fluffy wild dog toy, similar to the
one that was given to us by friends when we began work on the wild dog
book and that still lives in the back of our 4X4. When the team
returned from Everest, Vaughan, with the help of the Endangered
Wildlife Trust, organised a fund raising dinner in Johannesburg and
raised just under R700 000-00 for wild dog conservation. Frikkie,
himself sold for the staggering sum of R125 000-00! We would like to do
the same thing for lions at a similar event in conjunction with Sasol
and Nikon South Africa.
publish a soft cover children’s book approximately 24 cm square with
approximately 30 pages and 30 full colour photographs, similar to the
above but obviously targeted at children. It is envisaged that there
will be several editions – in English, Afrikaans, Setswana, isiZulu and
isiXhosa. For the most part, the coffee table style books that we
produce are only available to a select few. The reasons for this are,
inter alia, awareness of the book, cost, geographical location and
language. A normal print run for this type of book is about 4 000 and
even if they all sell it means that only a very small percentage of
South Africa’s population has access to the conservation and cultural
information contained in them. With the lion book, we intend to change
this situation. We aim to get as many books as we can into school
libraries and, if possible, a small, children’s edition of the book, in
the relevant language, to individual children.
Fifty years ago there were an estimated 450 000 wild lions in Africa.
Today there are only around 23 000. This equates to a quarter of the
number of seats in South Africa’s premier sports stadium, Soccer City -
a truly shocking statistic, particularly because the decline has taken
place in so many of our lifetimes.
In contrast, the human
population has exploded, creating the need for additional land to grow
crops, keep livestock and expand settlements. The continent’s pristine
natural environment has also halved in area over the past fifty years
and is further diminishing at an alarming rate. The loss of habitat
affects the survival of all wildlife, with large carnivores like the
lion at the forefront of dwindling numbers of prey.
As human communities and
protected areas compete for space, conflict between people and
predators becomes inevitable and is a major cause of lion deaths across
Africa, as it leads to revenge killings for the loss of
livestock. As lions come increasingly into contact with domestic
animals they become vulnerable to diseases like canine distemper, which
is known to be a killer of lions, while the long-term effects of bovine
tuberculosis on lion populations has yet to be determined. Meanwhile,
generous hunting quotas in some countries, as well as slayings for
skins and body parts, play a significant role in reducing lion numbers.
The situation in South
Africa is, to some extent, different from the rest of the continent.
The Kruger and the Kgalagadi parks are large enough to allow, for the
most part, the natural processes that govern lion prides to continue
without human intervention. But this is not the case in the country’s
smaller fenced reserves where lions are to be found, of which there are
now about 45. Here, a more active management of the population is
necessary to maintain genetic diversity and prevent inbreeding. The
natural dynamics that usually keep lion numbers stable appear to partly
disintegrate in these small reserves. As a result, managers find
themselves with too many lions for the size of the land and the numbers
of prey species. There is correspondingly little option of relocating
excess numbers to other areas, as these already have sufficient or
surplus lions of their own.
The recently formed Lion
Management Forum (LiMF) is examining a variety of options to deal with
these problems. Various contraception methods, DNA mapping and the
concept of a metapopulation (which has proved so successful in managing
wild dog populations in South Africa) are being investigated.
When we started our
journey in search of the African lion, little did we know their story
would be so complicated. In the course of our travels through South
Africa we came across many amazing people doing essential work in
trying to find solutions to the issues of lion survival. We spoke to
scientists, ecologists, game rangers, trackers, hunters and those
involved in animal rights groups, and were struck by their commitment
to lions in various different ways. Our excursions took us to the
Kalahari, with its endless red sand dunes and vast skies, the ancient
landscapes of the dry northwestern areas, the Kruger National Park and
its surrounding private game reserves, and the lush green valleys of
northern Zululand in our home province of KwaZulu-Natal.
We spent days and weeks
with lions, in conditions that varied from the searing heat of a
Lowveld summer to the freezing cold of the Kalahari on winter mornings.
Our final afternoon on this project was unforgettable, when a coalition
of four adult male lions at Mala Mala in the Sabi Sand Game Reserve,
used our vehicle as cover to hunt a herd of buffalo. They were
unsuccessful but it did not matter, as we were content to just be
there, their potential strength enough to see.
There is no doubt that
an African continent without free-ranging lions would be a tragedy
beyond words – if future generations got to glimpse these magnificent
cats only behind the bars of cages or in the small enclosures of zoos.
Indeed, the entire energy of the planet would be diminished in some way
– and so would we, without the one other species against which we
always have found the measure of ourselves.
Roger and Pat de la Harpe. Howick. 2012.