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Is it possible for lions and cattle to inhabit the same space in Africa?


Frank and Stephen Ekwanga affix a GPS collar to a lion in a study of their impact on the endangered Grevy’s zebra. Credit: Dr. Margaret Kinnaird

Protecting lions and the interests of cattle ranchers in Kenya is a difficult balancing act. at recent days Frontiers in ecology and evolution The article, Dr. Lawrence G. Frank, researcher at the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology at the University of California, Berkeley, and the Mbala Research Center in Laikipia, Kenya, explores how livestock conservation can help protect endangered lions.

As part of his Frontier World series, Frank, who is also the director of Living With Lions, a conservation research group that works in unprotected areas of Kenya to save remaining wild lions and other predators outside national parks, caught up with Frontiers to tell us about his career and research.

What inspired you to become a researcher?

All children love animals and some who never grow up to become zoologists. At the age of 10, I was introduced to field biology at a local community museum, where we learned basic ecology and animal behavior, sample collection and preparation technique, and official field note format. I spent my weekends harassing local reptiles and trapping small mammals in the Bay Area hills; Several of my juvenile specimens are in the California Academy of Sciences research collection.

A field course on mammals in East Africa at the age of 18 helped me to Africa, and I returned to Kenya a few years later to study pesticides in birds of prey. After an MSc in Ecology from the University of Aberdeen, she has a Ph.D. At Berkeley, he studied the social behavior of spotted hyenas in Kenya’s Masai Mara National Reserve. With Professor Stephen Glickman, I helped establish the Berkeley Hyena Project—a large research colony in the hills overlooking San Francisco Bay—to study the unique biology of male females in this species.

Can you tell us about the research you are currently working on?

After 20 years of researching hyenas, in 1997 she turned to lion conservation biology, creating three projects in different parts of Kenya with two primary missions: to help traditional pastoralists (herding peoples) and modern ranchers better protect their livestock from lion predation, and to understand How lions adapt their behavior to avoid being killed by people angry at losing livestock to predators.

Those carried out by Ph.D. and master students from Kenyan, American and British universities, as well as dozens of Maasai warriors and their colleagues from various universities. I’m partially retired now but still active in Laikipia.

In your opinion, what is the importance of your research?

Lions are one of the most iconic animals, but they, like all African wild animals, are rapidly disappearing under the pressure of a growing human population. National parks are essential for protection, but most are too small and too far apart to protect large-scale animals like elephants and lions, who trespass the park boundaries, create problems for humans, and then get killed in retaliation. If these species are to survive, viable breeding populations must be preserved in human-dominated landscapes between parks, requiring coexistence, however precarious, of problematic people and wildlife.

For large carnivores such as lions, tigers, hyenas, and wolves, this requires managing both livestock and predators to reduce predation on livestock and subsequent retaliatory killing. It also means managing ancient human hatred towards these animals, which pose a threat to livelihoods and sometimes to human life.

Of course, this also means maintaining healthy populations of wild prey such as zebra, giraffes, and smaller grazing buffaloes, without which lions would have nothing but the livestock to prey on. Preserving lions and other large carnivores necessarily means preserving their habitat and all the wildlife they support.

Are there any common misconceptions about this field of research?

There are two major misconceptions among the Western public: first, that parks are all we need to protect lions and other African wildlife, and second, that the primary threats are disease, climate change, and trophy hunting. The disease may affect individuals but only in rare exceptions threaten entire local populations, let alone entire species.

The climate crisis threatens much of life on Earth, but other human impacts are more immediate. Trophy hunting removes individuals – mainly older males – but is a minor factor compared to the rampant killing by locals to protect livestock. The widespread use of cheap and deadly agricultural pesticides has devastated lion and hyena populations across much of Africa.

Since the lions return to the kill to feed again the following night, the offended cattle owner need only spray a $1 worth of insecticide on the carcass and the entire pride will die in the morning. Scavengers attracted to a corpse also die: vultures were ubiquitous until very recently but almost disappeared from most of Africa in this century due to poisoning targeting lions and hyenas.

How will you address them?

Large carnivores are difficult neighbors if one’s livelihood depends on animal production. African herders see little point in putting up with lions or spending the time, effort and money to protect their livestock if they can solve the problem permanently with a handful of poisons.

Since most of the remaining lion population is also occupied by people and their pets, conservationists must help pastoralists reduce livestock losses while ensuring that wildlife is improved rather than harming their economic and emotional well-being. Tourism is key to the latter, but a few tourist dollars make it to the family that ate lions’ favorite cow last night. Furthermore, much of the lion’s habitat consists of hot bushes that are unattractive to tourism.

What are some areas of research you would like to tackle in the coming years?

Making lions and other wildlife deserving of forgiveness is one of the greatest challenges to wildlife conservation in the developing world and will require far greater Western investment than is being spent today. Finding ways to promote tolerance of wildlife where the poor have more immediate and immediate concerns will be key to stemming the tide of extinctions sweeping the world today.

How has open science benefited the reach and impact of your research?

Our Living With Lions program in the Amboseli region of Kenya has spawned the highly successful Lion Guardians project, which employs uneducated Maasai warriors, mostly ex-lion killers, as citizen scientists, helping their communities avoid livestock losses to predators and working alongside professionals. Biologists collect data on lion numbers and the environment.

Rangers covered a vast area on foot, orbited a rapidly dwindling lion population and produced invaluable data on persecuted lions that are nocturnal, secretive, and difficult to study using standard wildlife research methods. In Laikipia, most ranchers invested heavily in new ways to protect their livestock from predators, building night stands (pens) of movable steel fencing instead of the native thorn bush, and today very few lions are killed after taking the livestock.

Too important to hide in academic publications are innovations such as the Lion Guardians project and mobile lion-proof bomas invented by Laikipia farms, which are too expensive and often inaccessible to the public and conservation practitioners. The current extinction crisis is progressing at a terrifying rate.

All advances in finding effective measures to protect dwindling species must be readily available to all who work to protect life on Earth. Frontiers is at the forefront of the movement to put advances in science and conservation ahead of profits.

more information:
Lawrence J. Frank, Twenty Years of Commercial Lion Conservation, Available here. Frontiers in ecology and evolution (2023). DOI: 10.3389/fevo.2023.1141195

the quoteDo lions coexist with cattle in Africa? (2023, May 9) Retrieved May 9, 2023 from https://phys.org/news/2023-05-lions-coexist-cattle-africa.html

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