Most of what we hear about lions is about their dwindling numbers and severe loss of their rangeacross the continent. While just a hundred years ago, 200,000 lions lived across Africa. Now, fewer than20,000 remain and have been extirpated from 26 countries due to habitat loss, human-lion conflict, and poaching for the lucrative illegal wildlife trade.
But today on World Lion Day, I want to share some good news worth celebrating for Africa’s iconic cat.
Thanks to our government partners and supporters like you, African Parks has been able to make significant headway in restoring and safeguarding Africa’s lions. Through effective park management and law enforcement efforts, species-specific interventions including reintroduction and translocations, and investing in education and local communities, we are creating safe havens where lions and other wildlife are able to breed, raise their young, and thrive.
Akagera National Park, Rwanda
In 2015, together with the Rwanda Development Board and with support from the Howard G. Buffett Foundation, we were able to reintroduce seven lions to Akagera National Park in Rwanda after they had been hunted out in the 1990’s. Children and community members lined the streets and welcomed their return. In just four years and with the birth of numerous litters, Akagera’s pride has since tripled. With poaching practically eliminated, wildlife is thriving and attracting over 44,000 visitors per year, half of whom are Rwandan nationals, resulting in Akagera being 80% self-financing due to tourism revenue.Lions are helping build a conservation-led economy, and younger generations are valuing their existence.
In Pendjari National Park in Benin, we are protecting 100 of the 400 remaining critically endangered West African lions. For the first time in the history of the park, and with support from the Lion Recovery Fund, we have recently collared 10 individuals allowing for our tracking teams to monitor and better protect this globally important population, and flagship species for the park.
In 2003 when African Parks assumed management of Liuwa Plain, only one lioness (affectionately known as ‘Lady Liuwa’) roamed the park. She was the sole survivor after years of illegal hunting had eradicated the rest of her kind. Together with the Department of National Parks and Wildlife, we undertook a series of translocations to help restore her pride. While she passed away naturally of old age in 2017, today her legacy lives on in the small but growing pride of lions who roam the plains, and are part of the growing predator population (including hyena and cheetah) who are rebounding in the park.
Majete Wildlife Reserve and Liwonde National Park, Malawi
In Majete Wildlife Reserve in Malawi, together with the Department of National Parks and Wildlife (DNPW), we reintroduced lions in 2012 after they had been hunted out in the 1990’s. Rhinos, elephants and 2,900 other animals were also reintroduced making the reserve the first Big Five destination in Malawi. Today, Majete has become a beacon of hope and due to our law enforcement efforts and community work, the reserve is flourishing. It now serves as a national source for wildlife and is helping to repopulate other reserves in the country. In 2018, together with the People’s Postcode Lottery, Dutch Government, the Lion Recovery Fund and the DNPW, we reintroduced nine lions (seven from South Africa and two from Majete) to Liwonde National Park, also in Malawi, restoring lions after they had been absent from the park for at least 20 years.
The lion’s future is in jeopardy, but the species can rebound, with our help. We are seeing how political action, donor support and local community collaboration can lead to the return of Africa’s lions, which in turn can create a host of other positive benefits at a local and regional scale.
Hope is not lost for lions. It is brimming in places like Rwanda, Malawi, Zambia and Benin, thanks to your support.