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  • The first large-scale acoustic survey for lions

    In this blog post I will provide an insight into how we conducted one of the world's first, large-scale, joint acoustic and camera trap survey, and how the acoustic data is helping to unearth a secretive side of large carnivores. Entering the hidden world of large carnivore vocalisations Good conservation is rooted in evidence-based decision-making. For conservation practitioners, one key bit of evidence is the knowledge of where and how many individuals of a species exist in a landscape. Conservation technologies such as camera traps (cameras which are triggered by movement), GPS collars, or autonomous recording units (microphones which record sounds) can help. These record data which can be used to calculate population sizes, determine where a species occurs across a landscape, or understand how a species might be impacted by human-wildlife conflict issues. However, biodiversity monitoring surveys rarely integrate different types of technology and autonomous recording units have never been used to study the occurrence of large African carnivores across a landscape. So, in August 2023 we set out to change this. In Nyerere National Park, Tanzania, an area with globally important populations of lion, leopard, and spotted hyaena, we conducted the first large-scale acoustic monitoring survey - 50 devices across 300km2 - for African carnivores alongside a camera trap survey and the collaring of 4 lions, with the goal of recording what lions sound and look like. This picture is formed from 2 separate camera trap images fused together to demonstrate the technology which we deployed in Nyerere National Park. Nb this lioness was collared by the Tanzanian Wildlife Institute for Research (TAWIRI), not Lion Landscapes. What are autonomous recording units/acoustic devices? Autonomous recording units, which is just a fancy way of describing a series of microphones encased within a plastic enclosure, record both ambient sounds and those originating several kilometres away. As an interesting side note, and as a general rule of thumb, acoustic devices have a similar ability to ‘hear’ sounds as humans do. On the left: an autonomous recording unit, named CARACAL. Each unit contains a circuit board with 4 microphones and a GPS unit. Cockroaches are generally not included. On the right: an example of the installation process of a CARACAL. Usually, in terrestrial habitats, these devices are installed several metres high onto a solid substrate (e.g., a tree), are powered by a battery source, and record acoustic data onto an SD card. Our devices were powered by 6 D-cell batteries and recorded acoustic data onto a 256 GB microSD card. This enabled us to continuously record the highly diverse sounds of the African bush for three weeks, before the card became full and the batteries died. Because data were recorded continuously, in addition to large carnivore vocalisations, we also captured brand-new sounds emitted from birds, insects, and other mammals. In total, the acoustic survey ran for 60 days (this required a set-up, two checks and a takedown - these efforts were supported by the Frankfurt Zoological Society, Lion Landscapes, TAWIRI and the Tanzania National Parks Authority - TANAPA - for which I am immensely grateful) and racked up a massive 75,000 hours of acoustic data. So now that I’ve recorded lions, what exactly am I going to do with the data? What do you mean - ‘lions have unique roars?’ A little-known fact is that lions have unique roars. A lion’s roaring bout is actually made up of 4 different stages and their unique full-throated roar is only one section of this full bout. We can use computational software to see how a lion's full-throated roar differs per individual. But admittedly, this is a weird concept - how can we see sound? We can view sound using something called a spectrogram. A spectrogram is a visual representation of frequencies within an audio signal as it varies with time. Below we can see the roaring bout of a lion. A lion's roaring bout can be separated into four distinct stages. Initial soft moans develop into full-throated roars which then switch to intermediary roars before the bout is finished off by a series of grunts. We can see that actually the majority of a roaring bout is made up of grunts and that the full-throated roars (which are the really important section because these roars are unique per individual) are usually restricted to 2-4 per bout. This is a spectrogram of a lion’s roaring bout. Black lines indicate the different vocalisations within the 4 different stages of a bout. A bout can be broken down into four stages. A) moans B) full-throated roar C) intermediary roar D) grunts. The full-throated roar of three different lions. We can see how the contour varies per individual. One focus of my PhD is to use the fact that a lion's full-throated roar varies per individual to produce a density estimate by looking at the number of unique roars across the landscape. The idea being that the number of unique roars is related to the number of vocalising individuals in Nyerere National Park. Any estimate that we calculate can then be compared to the results from the camera trap survey - a more standard and proven method of estimating the size of lion populations - to determine the usefulness of acoustic data in estimating the density of lions. But what about other species? Surely spotted hyaenas and leopards make cool noises too? Whilst this blog has specifically looked at lion vocalisations, my research will also hopefully incorporate the fascinating noises produced by spotted hyaena and leopard too. Via research or anecdotal/heuristic knowledge these species are also thought to produce vocalisations which are unique to an individual. But these have their own challenges. Spotties (spotted hyaena) have incredibly complex vocal repertoires. This is really cool, but from an analytical point of view, a nightmare. So, what this means is that for any analysis which attempts to differentiate between individuals I will need to select one very specific type of vocalisation. Even across a spottie’s whooping bout there are several variations of a whoop. Research has suggested that using the symmetric whoops are the best way of differentiating between individuals. This means though that there are many other very cool and interesting vocalisations that I will not use for this study e.g., hyaena laughter or predator-prey vocal interactions. Different vocalisations within a hyaenas whooping bout. Black lines indicate the different vocalisations within each stage. A bout can be broken down into 4 stages. A) preliminary whoop B) symmetric whoop C) asymmetric whoop D) terminal whoop. Leopards produce incredibly distinctive ‘sawing’ roars. If this statement leaves you confused, check out this link - and be ready to discover nature’s own chainsaw. Currently, there is no baseline study which proves that leopard roars differ per individual. This makes it difficult to conduct an acoustic density survey. However, given the volume of data that we have collected we are hopeful that these more basic questions can perhaps now be answered, and therefore lay the groundwork for future acoustic surveys of large carnivores. When applying the notion that an animal's vocalisations are unique to themselves, an important caveat and absolute necessity is that there is greater interindividual vocalisation variability than intraindividual. I.e., there is more variation between the vocalisations of different individuals than the natural variation that occurs from the same individual. The discovery of carnivore vocalisations Something which I find incredibly exciting is that large carnivore vocalisations (including the globally recognisable lion roar) are very much an under-researched field. But we are entering the gold-rush phase of acoustic monitoring; by combining large-scale passive surveys with newly acquired AI tools which allow us to process data more quickly, we will start to break into and discover a world that in the past we have only been a listener to. Combining audio data from the acoustic devices, visual data from the cameras and GPS from the collars will surely only be a good thing if we want to succeed in our goal to develop a more holistic understanding of large carnivores across a landscape. About the author: Jonathan Growcott is a PhD student working with Lion Landscapes. He is integrating tech, AI, and on-the-ground fieldwork to improve the monitoring of large African carnivores with a particular focus on lions. You can follow his work on Twitter/X.

  • Why growing grass helps save lions, and vice versa (part 2)

    African Rangelands Today Rangelands covers 43% of the African continent and are a vitally important biome for people, livestock and wildlife. This is particularly the case in East Africa, where traditional pastoralism has historically allowed a large number of wildlife species to inhabit rangeland alongside livestock - images of elegant pastoralist people accompanying herds of livestock grazing across wide grassland savannah, among herds of zebra and other wildlife species, are synonymous with east Africa. Taking Kenya as an example, approximately 75% of wildlife depends on land shared with people and livestock. However, many of East Africa’s rangelands are suffering serious degradation. Changes in land ownership and more sedentary livestock herds are resulting in weaker grass growth, bare earth, soil erosion and a breakdown in ecosystem functions, threatening livelihoods for pastoralist people and exacerbating their vulnerability to climate change (see our first Lion Friendly Livestock blog). Increasing shortages of grass and water is not just bad for people and livestock. A sense of resource scarcity can make people, understandably, less tolerant of sharing them with wildlife and lead to increased human-wildlife conflict. Livestock husbandry practices that help to regenerate rangeland functions are therefore not just good for livestock and people, but also biodiversity conservation too. Lions as a Symbol of Healthy Rangelands Lions may appear an unlikely symbol for healthy biodiverse rangelands, but as a livestock producer, living with lions is the highest bar when it comes to commitment to wildlife conservation. If you can coexist with lions, you can coexist with all large carnivores and other wildlife. In fact you probably already do - lion populations won't thrive without healthy prey, which won't thrive without healthy habitat, which in turn needs good soil. The presence of lions symbolises that there is enough grass and water to share, and a willingness to share it with lion prey, but it also symbolises a willingness to manage the inherent risks associated with the presence of wildlife. Lions are the hardest species for livestock producers to coexist with - they are big, come in groups, predate on the largest and most valuable livestock and can threaten human life. Where lions are a significant cost to people, people will normally kill lions. The presence of a healthy population of lions, therefore, indicates that livestock predation, and the retaliatory killing of lions in response, is being minimised, which is good for people and lions. Husbandry practices that stop lion predation will mostly do the same for other large carnivore species, so lions can act as an umbrella species for well managed conflict between people and other carnivores too. Overall, a healthy population of an apex carnivore like the African lion coexisting with a thriving livestock economy is a symbol of the very highest level of conservation success, and a healthy rangeland capable of supporting people, livestock and wildlife into the future. Lion Friendly Livestock Certification adds Value to Wildlife Presence Even when livestock predation is minimised, it can rarely be reduced to zero, and finding ways to make the conservation of lions and other wildlife valuable to pastoralist people is crucial to their survival on land shared with people and livestock. Conservation certification for agricultural products is one way of making wildlife presence, and wildlife friendly practices, more valuable. Goods produced in a way that promotes wildlife presence can command premium prices, or gain a competitive advantage over goods produced in a way that damages nature. Bird Friendly Coffee and Elephant Friendly Tea are two better known examples. There are also a growing number of more generic ‘conservation’ standards. All of these are a step in the right direction - they demonstrate that conservation practices can be more profitable than practices that damage nature. However, they can also be confusing, and greenwashing is an ever present concern for buyers. Transparency is therefore important in showing what a given certification means for nature, producers and buyers. Here we want to introduce the concept of Lion Friendly Livestock. This is a certification that uses lions, the apex carnivore, as a flagship species for livestock production on healthy, biodiverse African rangelands. To reach Lion Friendly standards, a livestock producer must support healthy rangeland from the soil all the way up to the biggest and most voracious carnivore species. Being Lion Friendly certified is not easy but doing what it takes to make sure lions can thrive alongside livestock can be what is best for grass production in African rangelands, and therefore what is best for livestock producers too. Lion Friendly Livestock Criteria Lion Friendly Livestock criteria are designed to be scaled across different rangelands with different human and environmental characteristics. Best practices used may vary from one habitat type to another or from one region to another, and can reflect local traditional practices. They may also vary over time as knowledge grows or as properties reach different stages of regeneration. The Lion Friendly Livestock programme is therefore not prescriptive over rangeland management and predator proofing practices, but rather helps land owners and managers to measure the outcomes of the practices used, informing a process of adaptive management. Although not prescriptive, the Lion Friendly Livestock programme works in partnership with specialists who can provide guidance on current best practices, giving livestock owners the critical tools and knowledge they need to affect a profound and long-lasting improvement in the ability of their rangeland to support livestock, people and wider biodiversity. Lion Friendly Livestock criteria fall into 6 simple groups or subsets, which we broadly describe below. The criteria underpinning these are designed to stand alone or be bolted on as the wildlife conservation part of an Ecological Outcomes Verification (EOV) framework, where land managers have the capacity to measure soil health, biodiversity and ecosystem function. Livestock and people distribution on the landscape (Space) In our first Lion Friendly Livestock blog we described how holistic grazing practices that concentrate livestock activity, and ensure that large areas of rangeland are allowed to rest from the presence of livestock herds and accompanying people, optimise grass production, healthy soils and overall rangeland health. Such practices also allow lions and other species that are sensitive to human presence the space they need to forage, rest and raise young without disturbance. The first subsection of criteria for being Lion Friendly therefore measures and tracks the percentage of the rangeland that is used by livestock herds on any given day, and as a result, the percentage left undisturbed. Standards are set at levels that are not only best for grass, but large carnivores and other species too. Prey abundance, distribution and richness (Prey) Another key factor for large carnivore survival, and biodiversity conservation in general, is the number of different species (richness) and the number of animals of each wildlife species (abundance) on the landscape. It is also important how much of the landscape is used by any particular species (distribution). Having plenty of wild prey available for large carnivores to eat is a key part of stopping them predating on livestock. To be Lion Friendly the majority of the property must be utilised by wildlife. In the second subsection of Lion Friendly criteria, abundance, distribution and richness of herbivore species is measured absolutely and as a trend over time. Absolute numbers may vary with natural events beyond the control of land managers e.g. drought, but trends over time will reveal whether the practices in use are having positive or negative impacts on biodiversity conservation. In order to allow for spatial and temporal differences in rangeland productivity, the percentage of the overall weight of animals (biomass) comprised of wildlife species is also reported compared to that of livestock. A drop in wildlife biomass and a corresponding increase in livestock biomass would indicate practices that are unsustainable in terms of biodiversity, whereas an increase in both wildlife and livestock biomass might indicate an improvement in overall rangeland productivity. Carnivore abundance, distribution and richness (Presence) In order to be Lion Friendly, a property must form part of the contiguous range of a viable population of wild lions preventing properties claiming to be Lion Friendly but artificially ‘farming’ lions that are not part of the wild population. As with the herbivore species above, the abundance, distribution and richness of large carnivore species are measured and reported as absolute numbers and as trends built over time, as indicators of how the livestock husbandry practices in use are impacting carnivore conservation. As with herbivore species, the standards are set so that the majority of the property must be available for use by large carnivores, preventing properties claiming to be Lion Friendly but only having lions in a small area. Additionally, large carnivore populations must be stable or increasing over time. Sustainable management of human-carnivore conflict (Tolerance) Large carnivores can only coexist alongside viable livestock production if the losses of livestock to predation, and the retaliatory killing of large carnivores as a result, are sustainable. Some livestock will be killed by large carnivores, and the occasional removal of a large carnivore may be necessary but must follow best practices for the region in order to meet Lion Friendly standards. Standards are set such that the losses of livestock to predation are financially sustainable for the producer, and any lethal control of large carnivores as a result does not have a negative impact on large carnivore numbers and distribution. Livestock practices that prevent predation i.e. keeping livestock in guarded bomas at night and tightly herded during the day, can also promote grass growth and soil health when properly moved around the landscape as part of a holistic grazing programme. Habitat refugia (Refuge) When sharing the landscape with people and livestock, lions and most other large carnivores need areas of refuge habitat i.e. patches of habitat that people and livestock are unlikely to enter due to the terrain being too rough or the vegetation being too thick. These patches of refugia are crucial in allowing lions to remain hidden and undisturbed when people and livestock are active in the area. This is particularly important for carnivores that have young cubs or pups but the habitat refugia, and heterogeneity in habitat it creates, is also beneficial to many other species. Lion Friendly properties must therefore have sufficient amounts of habitat refugia. Landscape connectivity (Scale) Lions are a wide ranging species, requiring large contiguous areas of land to support viable populations in the wild. A Lion Friendly Livestock producer must be connected to other areas of land that are suitable for lion in order to provide the area needed. Fences between suitable wildlife land must be permeable to lions and other wildlife. Encouraging neighbours to work together to manage the rangeland ecosystem as a wider whole, reduces the risk of the landscape becoming fragmented and is again better for wildlife and for people and livestock. Overall, giving lions the space, prey, tolerance, refuge and connectivity they need to persist will support wider biodiversity conservation and incentivise healthy rangeland practices that improve grass growth and soil health. Healthy functioning rangelands also sequester more carbon, and better provide clean water. Lion Friendly is therefore also biodiversity friendly, soil friendly and climate friendly. This should make Lion Friendly Livestock ultimately better for people too. Note. The Lion Friendly criteria and standards are co-developed with local livestock producers in Laikipia, Kenya. They will be tested over the following 12 months on properties that are known to have healthy populations of lions and other large carnivores in order to fine tune where the standards should lie in order to ensure rangeland management that supports people, livestock, lions and wider biodiversity conservation. We will publish the detailed criteria and standards as soon as they are fully tested. We would like to thank the following donors, who have enabled the development of the Lion Friendly Livestock programme: The Darwin Initiative, Lion Recovery Fund, Tusk Trust and The Nature Conservancy. We would also like to thank our partners in this programme, Loisaba Conservancy, Borana Conservancy, True Range and Kyran Kunkel.

  • Why growing grass helps save lions, and vice versa (part 1)

    The importance of grass Traditional pastoral families in East Africa depend on livestock for their basic needs and the loss of a herd often means a descent into abject poverty - not just no milk or meat, but no money for clothes, schools or medicines and other food. Also, livestock reflects status, meaning that its loss can have devastating mental health impacts. It is no surprise, therefore, that grass is the currency of life in pastoral societies, wars are fought over access to it. In East Africa more grass means more livestock, and more livestock means more wealth, status and power. Grasses are also important from a rangeland health perspective. They stabilise and protect soil, increase water absorption, add organic matter, sequester carbon and promote the growth of beneficial soil organisms. Bare earth is like a cancer on rangeland making it less able to trap and utilise the rain that does fall. Without grasses, rain water immediately runs-off the surface of the hard packed soil, washing it away into the gullies and rivers. Depleted soils can support less grass and less grass means less soil, and so the negative cycle continues. Without healthy grass cover, rangelands cease to function and pastoralist societies crumble. So why is this ‘bare earth’ cancer spreading in many of East Africa's rangelands? And what does the availability of grass have to do with lion conservation? Historically, East Africa's rangelands have supported teeming herds of wildlife alongside livestock and people on traditional pastoral lands. The most famous East African rangeland, the Masai Mara - Serengeti ecosystem, is synonymous with a sea of grass as far as the eye can see, supporting heaving masses of wildebeest and zebra, alongside livestock in many areas. Livestock production and wildlife conservation are not mutually exclusive, even when it comes to large carnivores. Under the right conditions of plentiful wild prey combined with well protected livestock, large carnivores mostly leave livestock alone. Even with less than optimal conditions, pastoral land is still home to important lion populations today. But the incredible productivity of East Africa’s rangelands depends on management practices that support the growth of grasses. Healthy rangeland can support masses of wildlife alongside livestock but the high productivity of East Africa’s rangeland is dependent on grass. Photo By Bruce Ludwig. Where has the grass gone? The depletion of grasses and creation of bare earth seems at first glance to be due to growing numbers of people and livestock, in combination with climate change resulting in less rainfall, less grass production and too many livestock dependent on it. Certainly climate change is exacerbating the situation, and ultimately there is a limit to the numbers of grazing animals that can be supported on any rangeland, but focusing entirely on numbers ignores an important part of the story; where this limit lies can be significantly influenced by the grazing management practices used. When grass is not given respite to develop a strong root system, it gets plucked out of the soil creating large areas of bare earth, which eventually washes away to expose the rock beneath. The management of grazing Grasses have evolved to cope with heavy grazing and trampling pressure but they need periods of time where they can grow enough leaves to photosynthesise and generate the energy they need to grow strong root systems, and to flower and seed. Grasses that are grazed continuously photosynthesise less, have shallow and weakened roots and are eventually plucked completely out of the soil by grazing herds. This means that the key factor determining grass production is not how great the maximum grazing pressure is (number of animals) but rather whether the grasses have the time they need free from grazing pressure to grow leaves and photosynthesise (distribution of animals). Traditional pastoralism was historically nomadic, with herds joining together to follow the rain. Grazing wildlife species do the same to a greater or lesser degree. Larger compact herds putting greater pressure on a smaller area for a shorter time appear to be optimal for grass production. Compacted herds can also have the added benefit of breaking up soil surfaces and providing valuable manure, increasing the organic content for soil animals, which in turn increase the aeration of the soil and improve conditions for grasses to grow. Livestock production done in the right way can play an important role in the maintenance of healthy rangeland systems, however, issues around land ownership and access to other key resources like medical care and schooling have made pastoralist people and their herds more sedentary over time, and the synergy between livestock production, rangeland grasses and wider biodiversity is breaking down. Large compacted herds graze, trample and fertilise grasslands intensively, leaving large areas of land to recover, unoccupied by livestock and accompanying people. The grass-lion link At Lion Landscapes, we are not rangeland management specialists but we do know what large carnivores need to persist into the future, and it is surprisingly similar to what grasses need too. Grazing systems that leave more of the rangeland free from livestock and accompanying people at any one time are also optimum for lions, and many other wildlife species. Lions are risk sensitive, and retaliatory or preventative killing by people protecting their livestock represents the biggest risk on the landscape. Human and livestock free areas that are being rested for grazing purposes therefore become an essential refuge for lions and other species that are sensitive to the presence of people, allowing them to rest, raise young, hunt and feed undisturbed, even during daylight hours. Additionally, larger compact herds are easier to guard from predation than livestock dotted about the landscape. Better protected livestock means less conflict between large carnivores and people over livestock predation, the biggest threat to the survival of large carnivore species in many areas. Lions will only feel comfortable resting in the open during the daylight in areas where the rangeland is not occupied by livestock and accompanying herders. Photo by Taro Croze. Lions and other large carnivores not only benefit from the spaces created between larger more compacted livestock herds, their presence also helps create them. The presence of large carnivores on the landscape significantly impacts space use by their prey and this extends to people and livestock too - where large carnivores are no longer a serious threat, herders can afford to be less vigilant, allow livestock to scatter and utilise with impunity habitats that would otherwise be viewed as having a higher predation risk. The presence of lions might even benefit grasses. It is obvious that large carnivores need prey to eat, and more biodiverse and productive rangelands mean more prey, however, to say healthy grassland equals healthy lions and vice versa would be dangerously simplistic, there are many other factors at play in this complex story. However, understanding how to regenerate healthy biodiverse grasses and soils is a critical part of the puzzle, even for carnivore conservationists. The biggest challenge to doing this today, with traditional nomadic pastoralists becoming more sedentary, is possibly not rainfall (although a lack of rainfall is a challenge) or even livestock numbers (although there are ultimately limits to the numbers of livestock possible) but rather enabling and incentivising the creation of dynamic livestock free space on the landscape, such that on any given day, grasses, lions and other species have the space and time they need for refuge, recovery and regeneration. Look out for our next blogs where we discuss the work being done to recreate the positive impacts of traditional pastoralism, and why Lion Friendly Livestock production is not just good for lions and other wildlife, but also grasses, soils, and ultimately livestock and people too. We would like to thank the following donors, who have enabled the development of the Lion Friendly Livestock programme: The Darwin Initiative, Lion Recovery Fund, Tusk Trust and The Nature Conservancy. We would also like to thank our partners in this programme, Loisaba Conservancy, Borana Conservancy, True Range and Kyran Kunkel. Stay in touch You can visit our website and keep up to date on our work and research in Africa by subscribing to our general newsletter. Join us on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn for recent photos and stories from the field.

  • Communities, conservation and colonialism

    Why the House of Lords should carefully examine the evidence around trophy hunting On 7th July 2023, The Canary published an article by a British anthropologist, Sian Sullivan, fearing that malign forces – such as, apparently, conservation scientists and African representatives – were aiming to ‘thwart’ a proposed UK ban on the importation of hunting trophies, by providing an evidence-based report to the House of Lords. Trophy hunting is a contentious topic, but at Lion Landscapes we believe that evidence is vital for effective decision-making in conservation, and we have presented evidence on the risks of an import ban to the UK Government. Here, we outline why we feel Sullivan’s article was at best overblown, and at worst misleading and arrogant. Sullivan starts – perhaps unsurprisingly – with a mischaracterisation. She suggests the report pushes against the influence of the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) to Ban Trophy Hunting simply because their Secretariat was a lobby group. That is untrue - lobbying is a valuable part of the political process. The issue comes (as highlighted by Parliament itself) when APPGs enable lobbyists to gain improper influence and access to parliamentarians. That is particularly concerning when lobbyists share demonstrable misinformation, as the campaign to ban trophy hunting imports has repeatedly done. Oddly, Sullivan seems to take particular offence that the report was supported by Resource Africa and Jamma International. Both organisations are clearly committed to community-based conservation, including sustainable use. Indeed, Resource Africa ‘promotes people-centred conservation for thriving, resilient livelihoods. We advocate for people’s rights to sustainably use their natural resources, respecting their cultures, worldviews, and knowledge systems. Our interventions are science-based.’ They have close links with the Community Leaders Network (CLN), which represents millions of people who would be directly affected by the UK’s proposed ban. Unsurprisingly, all these groups are against external, misinformed actions which would undermine community-based conservation, and have spoken out repeatedly against blanket trophy hunting bans. CLN’s website states: ‘We are the custodians of our natural resources and the key to its sustainability. Our voices matter’. It is unclear why Sullivan appears to disagree. After dismissing groups which advocate for community rights, Sullivan moves on to dismissing the weight of scientific evidence around trophy hunting. She worries that the fact that trophy hunting doesn’t threaten a single species is not evidenced in the report. She will doubtless have been relieved to see a pre-print of a scientific paper released in June 2023 (the same month as the report), providing just that evidence. She worries (rightly) that data are often incomplete and out of date. But most scientists are used to dealing with imperfect realities. From climate science to COVID, scientists make predictions based on the best evidence available to them. In this case, what is clear is that the major threats to biodiversity are habitat loss and poaching. Counter-intuitive as it might seem, trophy hunting revenue has supported the conservation of more wild habitat than National Parks, and helped combat poaching. It has also had demonstrably positive conservation benefits for several hunted species, including endangered ones such as the black rhino, as documented in a recent paper by leading rhino experts. Meanwhile, there is little or no evidence that the kind of ban sought by the UK would positively impact conservation or livelihoods. Since Kenya banned trophy hunting in 1977, its wildlife populations have crashed, with ‘policy, institutional and market failures’ identified as the fundamental cause. A trophy hunting ban in Botswana led to increased human-wildlife conflict and harmed local livelihoods. Import restrictions on polar bear trophy hunts harmed Inuit communities. Similar import restrictions have put pressure on Tanzanian hunting operators, leading to half the country’s hunting blocks being handed back to the Government. This has reduced active management, leading to increased illegal use and an emerging threat to wildlife, as no better alternatives are being implemented. While targeted, short-term restrictions can effectively tackle trophy hunting where it is unsustainable, blanket bans such as the one being proposed for the UK are likely to do more harm than good. Sullivan is either unaware of the lack of evidence supporting bans, or chooses to ignore that glaring omission. Sullivan then moves on to some confused assertions. She appears to think the risks to Namibian conservancies of removing trophy hunting have been overstated, just because it may not be their primary source of income. That doesn’t mean trophy hunting revenue is unimportant – the very report Sullivan cites shows that of NS$91 million of cash and benefits, over a third came from trophy hunting. That may not seem important to Sullivan, in the comfort of the UK’s leafy Bath, but is likely less easily dismissed by those receiving such benefits. She also then criticises Namibian conservancies for not reducing their hunting offtakes in a drought period – while sharing a table which appears to demonstrate that that’s precisely what they did. Perhaps the most worrying and demeaning part of Sullivan’s piece is her dismissal of how the UK ban is perceived by many as being neocolonial and insulting. To be clear, this is not a ‘cynical claim made in the document’, but the direct words of over 100 African representatives, including High Commissioners, who stated clearly ‘It is sad to mention that we feel this is another way of recolonising Africa’. Most people would think that Africans are better placed to judge what feels neocolonial to them, rather than any of us white Britons. There is no doubt that both trophy hunting and photo-tourism areas often have a dark colonial history. But that should be even more of a reason to actually listen to the people who have suffered from colonialism, and ensure we don’t undermine their rights and voices in the present day. Then Sullivan moves on to what she terms ‘meagre benefits’ from trophy hunting. However, it is unclear if he has actually read the paper she uses to evidence that claim, as it states: ‘Conservancies in the Zambezi region receive 13% of their direct income from joint venture [photo-tourism] lodges….while 81% is earned from hunting concessions.’ It also highlights that local operators capture 29% of the revenue from trophy hunting, but only 4% from photo-tourism, and concludes that ‘hunting tourism makes a considerable contribution to revenues in peripheral regions of southern Africa’. Even if Sullivan wishes to dismiss the income, jobs, meat and other benefits from trophy hunting as ‘meagre benefits’, her judgement should count far less than the views of affected community members, particularly in places like Namibia, Takijistan, Pakistan, Nepal and Turkey, where most of the benefit demonstrably goes to local communities. Sullivan then adds insult to injury, by ignoring well-founded fears of aid dependence, apparently because many communities using trophy hunting also receive aid money. It is baffling that an anthropologist needs this explaining, but here goes. Imagine a single parent, working two jobs to bring up their children. Occasionally, a distant, rich, overbearing uncle sends them $100 in an envelope. It would likely be gratefully received. Now imagine the rich overbearing uncle demands the parent give up their job and wait for the occasional envelope. That would suddenly be demeaning. It’s exactly the same here – aid may be valuable, but should not replace the sustainable use of a country’s own natural resources, especially at the whim of misinformed campaigners. Such campaigns are even more galling when the UK seems content with using extensive trophy hunting at home, and when affected countries have a far better conservation record than the UK does. The headline of Sullivan’s piece drums up fears of the Bill being ‘thwarted’. That is unfounded – the report she criticises clearly recommends a ‘smart ban’ approach with a conservation amendment, as supported by over 200 scientists and conservation experts. Given this Bill was purportedly about conservation, any such amendment would strengthen, not thwart, the conservation impacts of the legislation. Ultimately, and depressingly, Sullivan’s piece could be interpreted as a call to ‘ignore informed scientists, ignore the weight of conservation evidence, and ignore the voices of those most affected’. Unfortunately, it has been through exactly those tactics that the Bill has progressed so far. No wonder so many campaigners are fearful of the greater scrutiny that the Bill should receive in the Lords. It is also striking that nowhere in her article – and nowhere in the entire campaign to ban trophy imports – does it explain how blanket bans will improve outcomes for people or wildlife. That clear omission has a simple explanation – because they won’t. We, and many other conservation scientists and practitioners who understand the true risks of removing trophy hunting with no better options on the table, hope that peers will indeed weigh carefully the information laid before them. We urge them to consider where the true risks lie, and do their job of improving this Bill so that it delivers conservation gains without harming wildlife or disempowering vulnerable communities. Stay in touch You can visit our website and keep up to date on our work and research in Africa by subscribing to our general newsletter. Join us on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn for recent photos and stories from the field.

  • From lack of planning to strategic planning: better late than never!

    It is nice to look back and think that we got to where we are by design. Hindsight can polish dumb luck into a shining history of carefully considered and well thought through plans - ignoring major errors in judgement. The truth is, when we started out as field conservationists in our raggedy little tents and ignorant bliss, deciding what to do and why did seem simple. From a position of relative ignorance we identified the most obvious problem and worked to find a possible solution. But the more we learned, the more complex the challenges facing conservation revealed themselves to be, and so our simple projects adapted and grew into networks of interlocking programmes addressing a myriad of different obstacles to coexistence between people and carnivores. We maintained our core large carnivore research but branched inexpertly into healthcare, security, education… who knew that large carnivore conservation meant addressing so many human needs? We hired and partnered with people with more expertise than ourselves, and gradually accumulated a wealth of shared experience that better guided our decisions. However, we never stopped to consider the bigger picture, there never felt like time to stop and consider much at all. Instead we kept pushing forwards on gut instinct honed through a process of trial and error. Some things worked and many things failed. When things failed we learned, picked up the pieces and tried something different. Even the merger between Lion Landscapes (v1) and the Ruaha Carnivore Project, which probably should have been a moment to stop and carefully consider the future, felt instinctive – ‘looks like a good plan, let’s do it’ – and in the space of one conversation another huge decision was made. In retrospect, that was far less than ideal - as leaders of the two organisations, we discussed and decided that merging was a great idea, and announced it excitedly as a done deal. But we should have recognised that it had taken many people, over many years, to help our organisations succeed, and they needed to be as much a part of the decision-making as the two leaders were. Amy Dickman (left) and Alayne Cotterill (right): ‘Looks like a good plan, let’s do it.’ Nevertheless, in that moment, with their characteristic energy and optimism, our collective teams responded and pulled together. New people joined to help build the necessary systems, and onwards we all rolled. Without so much as a pause, the new Lion Landscapes was formed to span four big landscapes in three countries, with a team of over 100 passionate and dedicated people and almost as many partners. After a whirlwind year, it was finally time to stop, lift our collective heads, take a deep breath and look around us; Who are we? What are we trying to achieve? How are we best going to get there? And how do we make sure - belatedly - that this joint organisation is something that we all believe in and helped create, not just the leaders? With help from Maliasili, we have now finished a process of strategic planning to help us answer exactly these questions - our final 5-year Strategic Plan is shared with you here. At the core of this document is our Theory of Change – our unique pathway to achieving our shared vision and mission. Having dedicated most of our lives to large carnivore conservation, we all had our individual, internal missions but realised that often those missions did not align exactly with those of others in the team, and that we often failed to express them as clearly as we needed. The large carnivore species we study, captured on camera traps on village land Maliasili helped us to crystalise those individual goals into something clear and shared. We realised that everything we were doing was working to make large carnivore conservation valuable to local and global communities. At present, most of the value of that conservation is felt internationally, while it is local people who bear the costs of it. Our central goal is to rebalance that equation, making conservation fairer and more effective. The conservation of lions and wider biodiversity must have real, tangible, competitive value for the people sharing the landscape with it - otherwise they will do something else with their land - agriculture, infrastructure, anything that will allow them to improve the wellbeing of their families. This is what humans have done across the globe for millennia. Much of our work focuses on that local level, but maintaining and expanding global buy-in is also vital. Unless the international public, companies and decision-makers are willing to invest properly and equitably in conservation, including covering the real local costs of carnivore conservation and coexistence, it will fail. We can hardly expect the poorest communities in the world to bear that cost alone, which has often been the case up to now. Local people examine the footprint of a carnivore (left) which had killed livestock (right) Strong evidence for conservation action But how do we as Lion Landscapes achieve this mission? The foundation of our Theory of Change, the start of our pathway, is strong evidence for conservation action. This comes in many forms, from scientific data to locally contextualised knowledge built from living at the field sites, talking to local communities, building teams from within those communities, and immersing ourselves in each landscape. Additionally, our ongoing monitoring provides data that constantly evaluates the impacts of our programmes and the status of the challenges we are addressing. Our close affiliation with Oxford University ensures strong scientific studies underpin our local knowledge. Foreign students are paired with local students to ensure the most effective sharing of local knowledge and technical expertise. Overall, this helps us to fully understand the challenges faced, and have the ability to constantly assess how our actions impact those challenges. Communication for change Having good evidence for conservation action is only useful if it’s made available, understood and used by those making the conservation decisions, and so the next step in our pathway is communication for change. We must make sure that the information we spend so much time and energy collecting is used to inform effective conservation action by us, our partners and wider conservation decision makers. Lion Landscapes researchers communicating our findings to local stakeholders Stop the loss, reduce the cost, unlock the benefits For Lion Landscapes, our conservation actions all work towards at least one of our three goals; to stop the loss of large carnivores, their prey and habitat, to reduce the cost of conservation to local people and to unlock the benefits associated with conservation for both local and global populations. For example, we have multiple programmes which directly reduce threats like snaring and poisoning (stopping the loss) and work with people to prevent carnivore attacks (reducing the cost). But probably most importantly, every year we translate hundreds of thousands of donor and development dollars into local community benefits which are clearly and directly linked to wildlife presence, so the benefit of conservation is felt by those most affected. Throughout all of these actions, we build local capacity to increase the long-term impacts of our work. 1) Stop the loss of large carnivores 2) reduce the cost of living with wildlife 3) unlock the benefits Collaboration and Partnership Collaboration and partnership underpins our theory of change (see image below). We know that we will never achieve our mission alone, and so we collaborate or actively partner with many others, both within and beyond the landscapes we work in, so we can use our complimentary skills and resources to achieve shared goals. Our Theory of Change All elements work together to achieve the Lion Landscapes mission of making large carnivore conservation valuable to local people and global communities. Effectively translating the immense global value of large carnivore conservation to local communities would be transformative. It could reduce and even reverse the huge threats of human-wildlife conflict and habitat destruction, and make wildlife a vehicle for people being happier, wealthier and more fulfilled. Ultimately, it would enable the creation of healthy landscapes where people and wildlife, including the largest carnivores, can thrive together. This is our vision, we hope you share it! Interested to learn more? Register for our Behind the Scenes webinar 23 March, 5pm GMT Stay in touch Subscribe to our newsletter and keep up to date on our work and research in Africa and follow us on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn for recent photos and stories from the field.

  • Changing behaviour to stop the loss of wildlife through poisoning

    Livestock predation is the leading cause of retaliatory killings of lions and other large carnivores often through poisoning. The poison is just common pesticides which are easily accessible and affordable. The cascading effects from one poisoning event are tremendous as it not only kills these large carnivores, but any animal that eats the carcass - including hyaena, jackals, eagles and critically endangered vultures. Secondary poisoning leads to the death of animals that feed on other animals that have been poisoned. One poisoned carcass can cause hundreds of deaths and therefore has a devastating effect on the ecosystem. There is also conceivable risk that pesticide contamination in the environment causes illness or death of livestock, and can impact human health. Left: Graphic used in training communities about effects of poisoning. Right: example of a poisoning that killed not only lions but also many critically endangered vultures. While these retaliatory poisonings are devastating for wildlife, it is important to begin by understanding the extent of predator conflict that communities have to endure. In some cases, pastoralists can lose a significant number of livestock in one night, driving the owners to resort to poisoning. The economic loss to the affected households can be desolating and unbearable. In the words of our joint CEO Dr Dickman, "They do what any one of us would if our livelihoods and children were threatened. The reality is that they (wildlife) are extremely difficult to live alongside.” Our partners The Peregrine Fund (TPF) have found that most people do not understand the wider impacts of poisoning or do not make the connection between pesticide/herbicide contamination and the illness or death of their livestock or the impact on their own health. Quite a number of health problems in livestock result from exposure to excessive quantities of herbicides. To better understand this and reduce the incidences of poisoning in response to livestock loss we educate communities about the human and livestock health risks of using poison. Based on the successful Community Coexistence Training, which was developed by TPF and continues to be implemented in Laikipia, Kenya in partnership with Lion Landscapes, we again worked with TPF and North Carolina Zoo (NCZ), to develop a site-specific coexistence training programme for Southern Tanzania. The training has two main components: preventing human-carnivore conflict and impacts of poisoning. The first part empowers people on how to better protect their livestock from predation, e.g. enabling villagers to construct or improve their own predator-proof enclosures, improving daytime herding practices and improving livestock management. The second part of the training raises awareness about the hazards - for people, livestock, wildlife and the wider environment - associated with using poisons, the signs and symptoms of poisoning, and training on personal safety when handling pesticides. In April 2022, members of TPF and NCZ visited our work site in Selous-Nyerere landscape, Tanzania to gain a better understanding of the types of human wildlife conflict occurring in this landscape by interviewing both our staff and stakeholders from the local communities. The training was adapted to local circumstances and our field team, including the Lion Extension Officers (LEOs), were trained. By taking a ‘train the trainers’ approach, our team of trainees have then been able to go out and share their expertise and skills with the wider community. Left: Martin Odino from TPF (on the right) training the field team and LEOs on the effects of poison, and how to decontaminate a poisoning site. Right: LEOs undergo continuous refresher training. In June 2022, the poisoning training started to be implemented in the Selous-Nyerere landscape and by the end of the year 423 people had been trained. The results have been encouraging as more people report understanding that using poison is not only illegal, but dangerous for them and their communities. Among the trainees there was a 39% increase in the number of people that know that using poison to kill wildlife is illegal and a 30% increase in the number of people who said they would persuade someone else not to use poison if they had it. We also recorded a 28% increase in the number of people who thought it would be positive to have a community agreement to penalise people who use poison. Community Coexistence Training in Mloka village, Selous-Nyerere At the same time as this training rolled out in Selous-Nyerere, training was ongoing in Laikipia, Kenya - implemented directly by TPF as part of the Coexistence Co-op, reaching 167 people during the same time period. In Laikipia, there was a 53% increase in the number of people who understand poison used for wildlife can also kill people and 16% more people reported that they would try to convince someone who has poison not to use it. There was an increase of 44% in the number of people who reported they know how to build a wire boma and 20% more people reported they intended to build a wire boma in their household. The training not only focuses on stopping the loss of lions to retaliatory poisoning, it also helps the communities to reduce the cost of living alongside wildlife through good livestock husbandry practices (photos: M. Odino). To support the shift in attitude to view wildlife more positively, we also started doing educational trips into Nyerere National Park, reaching a total of 165 community members. Of the people who were brought to visit the park, 85% reported having a more positive view of the National Park after their visit. Educational park trip to Nyerere National Park - the first opportunity for these community members to watch lions in a non-threatening environment. Another educational channel that we are using with schools in the areas we work with is the distribution of our storybooks. In Haikya the Hyaena Friend a poisoning incident is specifically addressed. We are grateful to IUCN Save Our Species and the European Union, together with the co-funders Lion Recovery Fund, The Nature Conservancy and others, for the support of this work that is so valuable for positive conservation. With the support of IUCN Save Our Species, co-funded by the European Union This publication was produced with the financial support of the European Union through IUCN Save Our Species. Its contents are the sole responsibility of Lion Landscapes and do not necessarily reflect the views of IUCN or the European Union. Stay in touch You can visit our website and keep up to date on our work and research in Africa by subscribing to our general newsletter. Join us on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn for recent photos and stories from the field.

  • Survey expansion into Shikabeta REDD+ Zone, Luano Valley, Zambia

    Join Lion Landscapes' Field Ecologist Nicola Carruthers on her trip into Luano Valley, Zambia. The Luano Valley is not often said to be a wildlife area one must visit, due to rugged terrain and low density of wildlife, yet the existence of the Luano Game Management Area (GMA) has ensured that, at the very least, the habitat has remained intact. As has the tsetse population. The scenery when driving down the escarpment into the valley is breath-taking: dramatic hills rolling into one another on the horizon in a wide pallet of dusty blues, foliage in shades of greens, yellows, oranges, reds and browns, forests of huge Euphorbias twice as tall as my car and the Luensemfwa River in the distance weaving its way through the landscape like an emerald snake. I thought the childhood stories from my father had prepared me for the beauty of the landscape, but evidently not. With six years of patient and nurturing attention from the Norton Family of Makasa Safaris, the support from the Shikabeta Chiefdom and the Department of National Parks and Wildlife (DNPW), the Lower Luano hunting concession has rebounded with incredible results. The success of the current conservation strategies, combined with the geographical location, are clear as day. That was one reason the Lower Luano Shikabeta REDD+ zone was selected as Lion Landscapes Zambia’s first expansion of biodiversity monitoring activities into a GMA with our partners, BioCarbon Partners (BCP) and DNPW. Herds of up to what looked like a hundred impala stood by the road, nonplussed, as my noisy Cruiser rumbled past. We must have seen at least 400 impala just on the drive into Chomba Camp. Groups of kudu casually browsed, pausing only to watch the vehicle pass; bushbuck, warthog and baboon were equally calm. This is not what one expects when entering an area described as “depleted” and “starting to recover from a scourge of poaching”. Not once in my life, all in Africa, have I been to the bush and heard lion calling every single day for ten days straight. This was the exception in my 30-year experience. For ten consecutive days, at various times of day, there were lions calling: not always a single lion, not always from a single location and not always in isolation. On one occasion there were lions calling from three separate locations, with at least two individuals in two of those locations. In addition to these observations, we know from collar data shared by Zambian Carnivore Programme that wild dogs are starting to come back, even if only dispersal groups that stay a short while before moving on. The record-breaking trip of a collared wild dog from around South Luangwa National park into Mozambique and back into Zambia shows the individual spent some time along the Luensemfwa River that bounds the Lower Luano hunting concession and Shikabeta REDD+ Zone. After two days of initial training, the five teams made up of Makasa-supported Community Scouts, BCP personnel, interns, one DNPW Wildlife Police Officer, the area DNPW Ecologist, and BCP-supported Community Scouts started the gruelling task of sampling approximately 530km2. Teams leave the basecamp early in the morning in order to reach the start point of their first transect by 7am sharp, and only get back to the basecamp after dark and usually after a long walk in bad light (in which a torch helps very little). We rotate “easier” days with “harder” days to keep up morale and ensure data quality remains as high as possible with rested minds and bodies; our most important assets are the scouts, not the devices they use. For the first survey, I was not expecting any live sightings of large carnivores. I was wrong to have had such low expectations for there were several sightings both on and off transects, with numerous fresh tracks recorded. Fewer tracks were recorded overall than had been expected, which we assume is due to the dominant terrain: pebbled hills with very few sandy patches. The teams moved to a new camp for the final day of sampling to reduce drive times in the morning and evening. From there, the teams went back to their usual stations of operation – from Mfuwe to Chirundu and almost everywhere between. We are now looking at doing the less fun work – writing reports – but having the memories of such a smooth survey with supportive partners makes it less painful. We look forward to seeing the trends emerge from this interesting area in the next few years. Stay in touch You can visit our website and keep up to date on our work and research in Africa by subscribing to our general newsletter. Join us on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn for recent photos and stories from the field.

  • Courage and complexity in conservation

    Conservation takes courage. Coming from lion conservationists, you might think we are talking about fieldwork, which certainly has its challenges. Tracking wild lions on foot, living in remote field camps with snakes and poisonous spiders, facing community anger and grief when wild animals destroy peoples’ livelihoods or, appallingly, kill their children. The emotional stresses are often greater than the physical ones, and go well beyond the risks of fieldwork. Year after year, we and our teams deal with the gritty realities of conservation – the kinds of events that make you cry in your tent at night. We deal with the aftermath of poisoned lions, snared leopards, mauled livestock, and spend countless hours developing new ways to try to deal with a staggering diversity of threats, from charcoal burning to bushmeat poaching. There are bright spots too, when we know our team has made a tangible positive impact on people and wildlife, and those should be celebrated. But make no bones about it, we are just putting our fingers in the dam, as seemingly unstoppable human pressures swamp the wonders of biodiversity. And we are not alone. Every conservationist we know, whether they are working on lichens or lions, is deeply committed, enthusiastic, and steeped in expertise and passion. They are all fighting to save biodiversity in immensely complex and challenging situations. It is surprising, then, to see how much the passion, expertise and courage of conservation scientists fades as soon as we step away from the savannahs into the far more hostile environment of social media. Moving from dealing with angry warriors armed with spears to dealing with keyboard warriors armed with emojis, we are disempowered by unwritten but seemingly immutable rules. People only want good news stories. You can’t post photos of dead animals or people will be ‘put off’. Don’t depress people. Don’t focus on nameless animals – people like to hear stories about known individuals. Keep it simple, avoid complexity and nuance - people like black and white stories, ideally with a clear ‘villain’. Don’t get into anything too contentious, or people might not like you. Don’t speak out on controversial issues or it will cause public distrust and donor abandonment. Don’t risk it. Post a cute picture of a lion cub called Lucky instead. When did we all become so scared about sharing reality? This lack of honest engagement is increasing the disconnect between public perceptions of conservation and reality. Scared into submission, conservationists dutifully highlight the birth of Lucky and her litter-mates, so people feel happy. They are dissuaded from highlighting the far-more-frequent killings of unnamed wild animals, whose very anonymity means they are critically important, as they are likely to live in less studied areas. Conservationists are often directly told not to raise important fears – such as the risk of habitat and biodiversity loss from misinformed policy – in case it alienates donors. This has very real consequences. How can we get the public, political and economic buy-in needed to properly address huge issues like lion decline, tackling key threats such as habitat loss, if no-one recognises the complexity of the topic and why it is so challenging? What donors and the wider public believe is shaped directly by what we tell them. If they think that all is well in the world of lion conservation, because we focus on showing them photos of Lucky the lion cub living happily in an apparent safe haven, we have no-one to blame but ourselves. Equally, failing to challenge overly negative ‘extinction narratives’ also does conservation a disservice. For example, campaigners have recently claimed that there are only 10,000 lions left, while there is a persistent media myth that they face extinction by 2050. In fact, latest estimates put the wild lion population (excluding those in smaller fenced areas) at around 24,000 animals, and while their numbers and range are very likely to diminish further, extinction is very unlikely as populations will remain within well-protected areas. Some will say that we shouldn’t nit-pick: lions and many other species are under major threat, so why change media narratives which highlight that (and which are likely to help generate donations)? Because facts and truth matter. They are the very foundation of scientific understanding, and we should treat them lightly at our peril. If conservationists fail to truthfully engage with the public, it will ultimately make conservation success less likely. Overly negative warnings risk public ‘extinction fatigue’, and make it harder to gain attention for truly urgent threats. Furthermore, simplistic messaging creates simplistic understanding. It creates the illusion that conservation is easy, and that anyone can do it – which is why, in the media anyone with a passing interest in wildlife seems to be termed ‘a conservationist’. It diminishes the understanding that conservation work requires many years of professional expertise to understand its complexities. People recognise that with medicine, engineering, physics and so much else, but we are failing to communicate it for conservation. This is not about bruised professional egos – simplistic understanding (or worse, misinformation) can actively intensify the conservation threats we battle against every day. It creates a swell of support for simplistic, false ‘solutions’ which risk making things worse when they meet complex realities on the ground. Current examples are campaigns to ban trophy hunting (which risk amplifying the far greater threats of habitat and biodiversity loss, as well as undermining local communities) and campaigns to end all wildlife trade (which fail to recognise the benefits of legal, sustainable trade and risk harming millions of vulnerable people). Once such campaigns have public and political traction, the voices of concerned conservationists go virtually unheard, like shouting into a storm. Instead, we need to act far sooner, by being open and honest about the realities of conservation, even if it is risky. The risks are real: from personal experience, we know that speaking out openly on complex topics such as trophy hunting risks abuse and targeted campaigns to try to discredit scientists. This is appalling, but should not stop us engaging. While some donors only want simple narratives, we have found that most people are far more resilient and open to honest and informed perspectives, even about contentious topics, than conservationists appear to give them credit for. Everyone knows that life is complicated, and that actions often risk unintended consequences. So when you explain those realities in conservation, it resonates as authentic. People trust us with their money and their passion for wildlife, and we should honour that trust by engaging with them honestly and openly. Right now, the system is not working. The realities and complexities of conservation are abundantly clear in the field, but all too often, unpalatable truths are filtered out by the media and PR lens of conservation NGOs, fearful of public and donor backlash. We must have the courage to know our expertise, and use it to shape public discourse and policy discussions. The natural world needs the passion and knowledge, openly shared, of those fighting to conserve it. The public need to know that what we do is complex, difficult and immensely challenging. Conservation deserves it. Scientists deserve it. Donors and the wider public deserve it. Long-term, even Lucky the lion cub deserves it. Stay in touch You can visit our website and keep up to date on our work and research in Africa by subscribing to our general newsletter. Join us on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn for recent photos and stories from the field.

  • Six Key Factors that Make Successful Human-Lion Coexistence Possible

    Lions are under serious threat, with their numbers dropping by over 40% in around 20 years. One of the main threats to them is conflict with local people, as lions and other carnivores can impose significant costs on local people, and often offer few tangible local benefits. Lion Landscapes works to facilitate human-lion coexistence by reducing the costs and increasing the benefits of large carnivore presence to people in four of the most important landscapes for lion conservation left in the world today. Here we share six of the most important factors that allow lions to coexist with people. We are sitting in our vehicle staring at a deep green bush, the mottled leaves create shadows that may or may not be something moving. Straw-coloured grass, knotted into clumps, is the dominant ground cover, making the dense patch of bush the only area of deep shade. Less than 200 yards away, a herd of cows slowly graze their way from right to left, a herder walking behind them, alternately whistling and calling to the cows, and stopping to silently watch us. He is no doubt curious as to what we are doing. I start to wonder myself; we are responding to a lion sighting report in this area and have decided on this most likely place where the lion might be but it is hot and we have been staring at this same patch of bush for a long time. Suddenly, and almost imperceptibly the shadows coalesce into the form of a lioness. Slung low to the ground and the same yellow as the grass, she materialises to watch the cows drift past for a long minute before disappearing so completely back into her thorny refuge that we are left doubting what we saw. Lioness in the bush watching Approximately half of the world’s remaining lions live in unprotected rangelands with people and livestock. Wherever there is such cohabitation, there is often tension. Lions can severely impact the livelihoods of pastoral people by killing livestock, particularly the larger and more valuable species like cattle and camels. This often leads to the retaliatory killing of lions, which poses one of the biggest threats to their conservation. Other serious threats to lions are also related directly or indirectly to people; prey and habitat loss, illegal poaching, and the list goes on. People are seemingly bad news for lions and vice versa, so what makes coexistence between our species possible? 1. Conflict is not the norm. Most interactions between lions and people are uneventful - lions normally allow people and livestock to pass without incident - in the case above, the lioness was doing something critically important to successful coexistence: she was assessing the situation and making an active decision not to hunt one of the slow-moving cows grazing past her. This is somewhat surprising considering how easy a cow would be to catch - but killing cows represents a risk to lions. Camera trap images of livestock and a lioness crossing the same place at almost the same time in the Ruaha landscape: the lioness seems to be making no attempt to attack the cows and may have waited for them to pass. 2. Fear drives behaviours that facilitate coexistence. As strange as it may seem, most lions are afraid of people most of the time. The slim man herding his cows posed no discernable threat to my eyes but lions have had hundreds of years to learn that people are dangerous. Without a healthy fear of people, lions would pull tourists out of their safari tents and ambush people venturing from their homes. They would also eat livestock - the most abundant and easy to catch prey in African rangelands - almost exclusively. But fear of people means lions attack livestock relatively rarely, and people even more rarely. Likewise, without a healthy fear of lions, people would leave their livestock to cover the landscape 24:7, whereas livestock that is tightly herded by day and confined to safe enclosures at night is not only better protected from lions and other large carnivores but also leaves space for other species to use the landscape. 3. Different activity patterns means people and lions can use the same space at different times. Lions are mostly nocturnal and people are mostly diurnal, and where they overlap this Spatio-temporal separation of activity becomes more pronounced. This means that the East African rangelands are the lionesses to use at night, and the man’s and his livestock to use during the day. Spatio-temporal separation of activities allows both people and lions to live full and active lives whilst minimising contact with the other. Lions and people walking along the same road in Kazumba Game Ranch in the Lower Luangwa Valley in Zambia 4. Lions show preference for familiar prey. If livestock is well guarded, and killing it represents a risk for lions, then lions will choose other wild prey species wherever they are available. Successfully protecting livestock from lions through good husbandry creates a positive feedback loop where livestock stays off the menu for lions, and their preference for wild prey is reinforced. A predator-proof boma which effectively protects livestock from large carnivores: our data show that fortifying enclosures in this way reduces attacks by around 90% 5. ‘Refuge’ habitat helps reduce negative interactions. The dense bush we were watching so intently acted as a refuge for the lioness, allowing her to remain undetected by people during the day. Likewise, people need a safe space to retreat to at night. Without their respective refuges, both lions and people would be at the mercy of the other during their vulnerable resting hours. 6. Successful coexistence is ultimately about value. At Lion Landscapes, we define successful coexistence as being where humans and wildlife occupy the same landscape without significant negative impacts on one another. In reality, wherever people and lions share the landscape, there will be some costs to both, but the most important key to successful coexistence is ensuring that related costs to the dominant species (humans) are outweighed by the benefits of coexistence. The benefits of conserving healthy, biodiverse ecosystems are becoming increasingly clear on a planetary level, but the very presence of the lioness, now invisible in her refuge of thorns, represents a risk to the life and livelihood of the man walking by. Ultimately, she must be sufficiently economically and/or culturally valuable to make allowing her presence a risk worth taking. Lion Landscapes and many similar organizations work to understand and amplify tangible value associated with lions and other wildlife. This could be cultural value (such as through our Lion Defenders programme or storybooks), community value (such as through our Community Camera Trapping) or economic value (such as through Lion Carbon). Crucially, any programmes should be based on local values and needs, and co-developed at all stages with local people. By considering these six factors, and putting local people's needs at the heart of conservation, we can make substantial progress towards reducing the significant threat of human-carnivore conflict and moving towards easier coexistence, which could improve the lives of both people and lions. Stay in touch You can visit our website and keep up to date on our work and research in Africa by subscribing to our general newsletter. Join us on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn for recent photos and stories from the field.

  • World Ranger Day: Celebrating the Laikipia Lion Rangers and Tusk’s Wildlife Ranger Challenge

    On World Ranger Day, celebrated every year on 31 July, we shine a light on the Laikipia Lion Rangers, who work to protect large carnivores and the livelihoods of local pastoral people on top of their normal security duties. These dedicated individuals are invaluable in achieving landscape-scale coexistence between lions, other large carnivores and people. Lion Rangers engaging local school children We currently partner with ten conservancies and ranches across Laikipia to train and support their rangers to monitor and protect lions and other large carnivores, prevent attacks on livestock and work with communities to stop the use of poisonous pesticides in retaliatory killings. Our partner conservancies and ranches include; Borana Conservancy, Mpala, Mugie Conservancy, Ol Maisor Ranch, Sosian Ranch, Suyian Ranch, El Karama Conservancy, Lewa Wildlife Conservancy, Tumaren Ranch (Karisia Walking Safaris) and Loisaba Conservancy. Together they cover approximately 200,000Ha of Kenya's third largest lion population. Laikipia’s Lion Rangers taking part in the Wildlife Ranger Challenge An annual activity that highlights the invaluable role of Rangers is the Wildlife Ranger Challenge organised by Tusk - with the ultimate goal of raising funds to support these men and women on the front line of Africa’s protected areas. Now in its third year, the Wildlife Ranger Challenge is a 21km half marathon and the Laikipia Lion Rangers will once again participate. The run-up includes a series of mental and physical challenges consisting of a push-up and sit-up challenge and a quiz designed to prepare the rangers for the half marathon. Laikipia Lion Rangers taking part in the Wildlife Ranger Challenge physical challenges This year, 24 of the Lion Rangers from Borana Conservancy, Mpala, Mugie Conservancy, Ol Maisor Ranch, Tumaren Ranch (Karisia Walking Safaris) and Loisaba Conservancy will join over 100 ranger teams from across the African continent in the Wildlife Ranger Challenge. In 2020, Loisaba Conservancy Lion Rangers won the inaugural Wildlife Ranger Challenge while in 2021, Ol Maisor Ranch Lion Rangers came in 12th overall. This year, all teams are ecstatic and motivated to do their best in the mental and physical challenges ahead. "The race was very tough and tiring.... we tried our level best and we enjoyed the race even though one of us was injured by thorn but we made it. We thank our management for their support for being with us at the ground from the start to the end and we thank Lion Landscape as well,” stated Nicholas (Laikipia Lion Ranger from Ol Maisor Ranch). What Nicholas does not mention is that the thorn injury was sustained whilst being chased by an elephant during the race - all in a day's work for a wildlife Ranger! We need your help! As we celebrate these men and women and their valuable role in conservation, we need your help - Due to high demand, we are raising funds to expand the number of Lion Rangers trained and supported in Laikipia to include more conservancies. This will allow us to collectively support even more livestock owners to successfully coexist with lions and other large carnivores across the Laikipia landscape. You can help us to achieve this valuable goal: Donate: Make a difference and support Laikipia Lion Rangers by donating through our fundraising page. Every donation will be matched by the Scheinberg Relief Fund, doubling the impact of your contribution and supporting rangers throughout Africa. Run with Laikipia Lion Rangers: Join the race and run alongside the Laikipia Lion Rangers by registering on for a 5, 10, or 21km run or walk. You can also take the ranger quiz and the exercise-based challenges. Encourage your friends and family to support you in your run and raise valuable funds to make each mile even more meaningful. You can start an individual fundraising campaign to support Laikipia Lion Rangers. Laikipia Lion Rangers taking part in the Wildlife Ranger Challenge race Share your Experience: Save the following dates in your calendar and share an image or video with us on Social Media of you doing the challenges, getting ready, running or finishing the race. See how many push-ups and sit-ups you can do in under two minutes, then test your knowledge with our ranger quiz at 30 August: Push-Up Challenge Week 5 September: Sit-Up and Canine Challenge Week 12 September: Quiz Week 17 September: Race Day Shop to Support: Show your support by wearing one of our official Lion Ranger t-shirts - the same design as the Laikipia Lion Rangers will be wearing for the Wildlife Ranger Challenge. See here merchandise options. Expand our Reach: Join the Challenge by following our social media pages; Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn, and sharing the event. Follow #ForWildlifeRangers to hear stories from the front line throughout the campaign. Follow #TrainLikeARanger from August to September to see if you’ve got what it takes to take to the field. However you wish to participate, we are grateful for your support of the men and women who are so valuable in helping us achieve our goals and in the conservation of our valuable landscapes. Images by Anthony Ochieng/TonyWild in collaboration with the Wildlife Ranger Challenge and supported by Natural State, the Game Rangers Association of Africa and the Scheinberg Relief Fund to raise the profile of Africa's rangers and showcase their important and diverse role in conservation. Stay in touch You can visit our website and keep up to date on our work and research in Africa by subscribing to our general newsletter. Join us on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn for recent photos and stories from the field.

  • Sharing knowledge with our colleague from DRC

    Knowledge sharing and skills training is a vital part of improving capacity in conservation. There are many important conservation landscapes with passionate, dedicated staff, but because they are in remote, isolated situations, they often lack the ability to gain new training opportunities. Through our Interns, Mentors and Partners (IMPs) programme, Lion Landscapes is committed to improving reciprocal knowledge exchange in carnivore conservation. This has allowed us to engage with amazing people who are dealing with diverse conservation challenges. Recently, the Lion Landscapes team in Tanzania recently welcomed Alain Omari from the Democratic Republic of Congo to the project camp near Ruaha National Park, to provide him with training on how to carry out surveys for large carnivores. Alain is an ecologist at Upemba National Park in south-eastern DRC, working in collaboration with Forgotten Parks Foundation. Following a number of reports from their rangers of hearing lions in part of the park, Alain and his team reached out to us to request this training, and will use the new skills he learned to document whether there are lions and spotted hyaena in Upemba. In his first week with Lion Landscapes, Alain learnt all about our human-wildlife conflict mitigation activities. He joined Lion Defenders Darem and John during their tracking route, where he learnt how to recognize and differentiate the spoor (footprints) of different species of carnivores, including lion, spotted hyaena, and leopard. The Lion Landscapes Research Assistants taught him how to identify individual lions using whisker spots, which we are using to monitor Ruaha’s lions through the guide sightings programme. He also learnt how to collect data using specially-designed software that can be installed on a smartphone or tablet. In his second week with us, Alain received training in the ecological survey methods our team have been using to assess the status of different large carnivore species in the Selous-Nyerere landscape. The training began with a discussion of the best methods Alain could employ to find lions, and which methods would be most effective and feasible in his specific study site. Together, we developed a survey strategy for him to use on his return to DRC. That afternoon, Alain also underwent hands-on training on QGIS mapping, in which he learned how to visualise data collected through fieldwork, and how to produce high-quality maps for reporting. He then showcased his new skills by producing a map of Upemba showing the location of a sighting of a shoebill – a rare stork-like bird. In the evening, the team went out to carry out call-ins, which are used to attract large carnivores – particularly lion and spotted hyaena – close enough that they can be seen and documented. The team selected an open area, mounted speakers onto the roof of the vehicle, and played recordings of prey at full volume (ear plugs are recommended!). Alain clearly brought some good luck on this particular evening: the call-in brought in three lions, including two small cubs, one spotted hyaena, and even one leopard. The next day, Alain and the ecological team ventured out early to learn how to conduct spoor surveys, which involve driving at low speed along roads and recording animal tracks. Although there had been heavy rain overnight which washed away many tracks, the team nonetheless found spoor of both spotted hyaena and lion, in addition to greater kudu, impala, and bushbuck. Alain correctly identified the carnivore tracks using his training and reference materials, and learnt how to photograph tracks alongside a ruler and GPS with the track coordinates. On the same morning, Alain was taught how to place camera traps with the goal of photographing lions, and put this training into practice by setting up two cameras in the Lion Landscapes camp. Although we did not find any pictures of wildlife when checking the cameras the following morning – as we expected – we were treated to multiple photos of the camp dogs running around in front of the cameras, and the camp guard conducting his night patrols! Although it was a relatively short visit, we’re delighted that we were able to expose Alain to so many different large carnivore research methods, as well as giving him the opportunity to see lions in real life. We hope that he will be able to use the new skills and knowledge he gained through this visit to gain the first insights into lion in Upemba. From our end, we learned lots about the challenges of carnivore tracking and conservation in a completely different environment. We intend to stay in touch and continue sharing knowledge to improve the impact achieved by both of our organisations. Stay in touch You can visit our website and keep up to date on our work and research in Africa by subscribing to our general newsletter. Join us on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn for recent photos and stories from the field.

  • Strawberry leopard in Selous Game Reserve

    Since 2020, Lion Landscapes has been carrying out a large carnivore assessment across the vast Selous-Nyerere landscape in southern Tanzania, in close collaboration with Frankfurt Zoological Society, protected area management authorities TAWA and TANAPA, and the Tanzania Wildlife Research Institute. A major component of this survey effort has been a series of camera trap surveys, which involve setting up remotely-triggered camera traps for two to three months to take photos of wildlife, which we then use to estimate population density of lion, leopard, and spotted hyaena. With so many cameras deployed as part of this effort over the past two years – 236 camera pairs so far – it’s inevitable that the cameras end up capturing some interesting and unusual things. While the field site remains largely inaccessible thanks to the rains, our ecological team have been busy processing the images from the cameras deployed last year in Selous Game Reserve. During this process, they discovered multiple photos of a beautiful and unique female leopard who appears to be what’s called a “strawberry” colour morph. Rather than the usual black spots, this leopard’s spots are reddish brown in colour. The photos below show the strawberry leopard next to a normal leopard in the same position at the same camera, for comparison: And below is a side-by-side comparison of daytime photos, with the strawberry leopard on the left and a normal leopard on the right: It's thought that this unusual colouration is a result of erythrism, a genetic mutation that causes an absence of a normal dark pigment or excessive production of red pigment. This has only been recorded a handful of times in leopards: a study from India in 1993 reported five individuals with the mutation (Divyabhanusinh 1993), and it was first documented in Africa in 2012, in a male leopard in South Africa’s Madikwe Game Reserve (read more about the record in this NatGeo article). A study in 2016 collated all known records of the mutation across South Africa, which totalled seven (Pirie, Thomas & Fellowes, 2016; read more in this article about the study). More recently, another strawberry leopard was documented in 2019 in Thaba Tholo Wilderness Reserve, in South Africa’s Limpopo Province, where two of the six leopards recorded in the 2016 paper were seen (more details in this article), and a female was photographed in Rajasthan, India late last year (read more in this article). Although our team never got to see this leopard in person, the camera traps allowed us a peek into her life – which is one of the perks of doing these kinds of surveys. As our ecological team continue processing the thousands of photos taken during last year’s field season, they will be on the lookout for more interesting and unusual things! Stay in touch You can visit our website and keep up to date on our work and research in Africa by subscribing to our general newsletter. Join us on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn for recent photos and stories from the field.

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