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Lions and their ‘Catch 22’ situation

Since the beginning of 2016, reports regarding lion conflict against humans or livestock is filtering through social media sites like never before. It actually started several months previously where a famous lion pride in the Masai Mara (Kenya) were poisoned to death by local farmers and has since not stopped.
Some believe the reason behind these predators entering human settlements more frequently now could be due to the extreme drought conditions various areas Africa is enduring.

The buffer Zone (area that separates the wildlife from humans) is at some areas non-existent and in other areas; lions are forced out of their territories following prey that is moving after water. Generally during the dry season, lions tend to remain close to a permanent water source and seldom move far away as this is where prey species will congregate on a daily basis. When a water source dries up then there is no alternative for game, but to move in search of ‘greener pastures’.

In the rainy season natural prey either migrate with the rains or disperses for a better quality of grazing and this leaves the lions yet again with little natural prey in SOME areas; not all. Natural game that stay behind are often unfortunately poached by locals for the bush meat trade or are snared as purchase from the butchery is not in their budget. This action yet again has seen many areas around Africa struggle to sustain any form of predator as predators fight back and are forced to look for food elsewhere.

The catch 22 for lions is that when prey move away, lions are forced to either follow migrating game and abandon their territory or stay behind and venture into human settlements after food at the risk of persecution from farmers. Local farmers provide water, food (if necessary) and grazing for their livestock and, with vegetation under massive threat of over consumption by game/livestock desperate to survive, the contact point between livestock and lions are inevitable. When lions struggle to kill grazing livestock during the day they adapt fast and rather follow them back to their kraals (bomas) and try their luck there.

Conflict occurs all year round and surprisingly enough it increases during the rainy season. This is where the catch 22 occurs as well as natural prey either migrate with the rains or disperses for a better quality of grazing and this leaves the lions yet again with little natural prey in SOME areas; not all. Natural game that tend to stay in areas are unfortunately poached by locals that fuels the bush meat trade or some prefer to rather snare game than purchase from the butchery. This action yet again has seen many areas around Africa struggle to sustain any form of predator as predators fight back and are forced to look for food elsewhere.

Previously hunted concessions supplied meat to the locals for years that live close by. Once the meat is removed and only the large bones remained, it was thrown not too far away; pile after pile. Predators (Lions) also became accustomed to this method and gladly feasted on the remainder. Generally speaking climate is one method how predator numbers are regulated naturally. During the dry, difficult seasons some lions might not survive as the conditions could be too harsh (internal parasites, competition for food and water etc) and therefore cubs or old lions might not survive till the next year.

Through ‘indirectly’ feeding them with left over’s during these dry periods, the “weak lions” survive and their general numbers can increase. Locals seldom ventured into the bush snaring for bush meat as they received free meat and therefore only left a handful of poachers snaring. When the hunting closed the lions went to the same places where they knew food would be and found nothing (this does not mean that we condone hunting it merely states a fact). Their reliance of constant food for several months a year has now been removed and yet again, the catch 22 is in place as they have no other alternative but to move towards livestock. No more meat is provided to the local villages and therefore the search for meat increases, the demand for cheaper meat increases and natural prey decreases dramatically over a certain time frame leaving lions with very little options.

Conflict, encounters and face-to-face meetings between locals and predators are increasing daily and those that would like to argue this come have a look for yourself. Short-term solutions are vital as it creates time and time is what lions require but for a long term solution a lot has to change in order for this to occur. Some conservationists believe that the only true way lions can still survive in the wild is when you fence off areas that occupy lions and create a save haven for them. What do you think?

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