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AFRICA’S SAVANNAH ECOSYSTEMS — AND THEIR LIONS — DECLINING AT ALARMING RATE
Lion Population Estimates as Low as 32,000, Habitat Reduced by 75%
Tanzania, East Africa (Dec. 4, 2012)—Researchers coordinated by a team at the Nicholas School of the Environment at Duke University have determined that Africa’s once-thriving savannahs are in trouble, due to massive land-use conversion and burgeoning human population growth. The decline has had a significant impact on the lions that make their home in these savannahs; their numbers have dropped to as low as 32,000, down from nearly 100,000 just 50 years ago, according to a paper published online in this week’s journal “Biodiversity and Conservation.” The research is the most comprehensive assessment of lion numbers to date.
African savannahs are defined as those areas that receive between 300 and 1500 mm (approximately 11 to 59 inches) of rain annually. “These savannahs conjure up visions of vast open plains,” said Laly Lichtenfeld, a co-author of the paper who is Executive Director of the African People & Wildlife Fund and a Visiting Fellow with the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. “The reality is that from an original area a third larger than the continental United States, only 25% remains.” In comparison, 30% of the world’s original rain forests remain.
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Inside, you’ll find our latest news and achievements featuring a new Conservation Enterprise and Development Program, HIV/AIDS education and Living Walls, Noloholo environmental summer camps, lions, cheetahs and Warriors for Wildlife, camera trapping big cats and much more…
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We are thrilled to announce that our Warriors for Wildlife program was selected as a winning project by the Zoo Boise Conservation Fund. Sincere thanks to Zoo Boise, zoo guests and an incredibly generous anonymous donor for making this award possible!
Read more about the Zoo Boise winning projects here!
And, read about our recent expansion of the Warriors for Wildlife Program on the African People & Wildlife Fund homepage.
If you would like to read our most recent update from the Maasai Steppe, please click here.
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A post by Jennifer Chin, APW summer intern and recent graduate of Duke University’s MEM/MBA joint-degree program.
No rain for eight months. This is a fact of life on Tanzania’s Maasai Steppe. The red-dirt roads crack in the dry air like aging skin, and the grasses and trees bake into endless shades of brown and gold. Maasai herders drive their treasured livestock far across village rangelands, seeking pasture. The wild savannah predators – lion, hyena, leopard, wild dog, cheetah – approach livestock enclosures and herds at pasture, seeking easy prey. It is a well-known recipe for conflict: predators eat livestock, herders hunt down predators.
In the midst of the long, dry season, I became an intern with the African People & Wildlife Fund (APW), traveling three hours southwest from Arusha to the Maasai village of Loibor Siret. Twelve years ago, APW co-founder, Dr. Laly Lichtenfeld, began working in and around Tarangire National Park. She sought a resolution to the human-wildlife conflicts that were causing approximately 40 lions deaths every year. APW is now a permanent fixture east of Tarangire, making daily investments into big cat conservation and community development. Their locally-produced solution to livestock loss, “Living Walls,” is internationally recognized for its contributions to lion conservation. As a result, APW advises nearly every major environmental decision made in the region.
My work for APW made the most of my MBA/MEM from Duke University. I built financial models to measure potential community profit from wildlife-based tourism, delivered business planning and teamwork training to groups of local leaders, and developed a social survey to measure income from agricultural activities. The goal of my work was to generate higher, environmentally-sustainable incomes throughout the region. In return, Loibor Siret residents welcomed me and my work with warmth and true pleasure.
For decades, conservationists have battled to deliver solutions for local communities that (1) impart financial and social value to threatened wildlife, and (2) generate economic benefits. Experts agree that project failure is most often tied directly to an insufficient understanding of each community’s unique capacities. What APW does – and what I believe is the biggest opportunity for other NGOs – is to make a crucial investment in building trust and mutual understanding on a social level. Once the region saw APW as a member of their own community, they became willing to contribute opinions, expertise and local leadership, thus fully participating in solutions that work for wildlife and for the community.
On a nighttime drive toward the end of my stay, we startled a young lion in the long, whispering grasses. He leapt to his feet as our Land Rover jostled to a stop, his belly full from a recent feast. We caught a glimpse of his wide eyes in the moonlight, glinting back at us, before he vanished into darkness. Why does The Nature Conservancy partner with APW? Together, they and other partners can save the life of that wild lion, while still increasing social and economic benefits to pastoralists through wildlife conservation.
Last year, TNC and APW facilitated the creation of a village Resource Management Action Plan. This process helped community representatives prioritize natural resource interventions, and sparked the formation of a committee that will provide leadership and accountability as the plan is implemented. Their work will advance watershed protection, develop women’s business skills, and improve grazing area demarcation. APW and TNC are now supporting the committee and the village while they register as a formal government-recognized entity, in an ongoing collaboration to preserve the Steppe’s resources for generations to come.
“Did you see me use the hammer?” asks one of the women we set out to empower and teach about HIV/AIDS during our first ever, all-women Living Wall installation event.
Given that HIV/AIDS is a problem across Tanzania and realizing that its more difficult for environmental conservation to be carried out by an unhealthy population, we are now bridging the gap between health and the environment through our Living Walls program. (Living Walls are environmentally-friendly livestock enclosures that keep cattle safe from lions and other large carnivores, thereby drastically reducing the number of retaliatory killings of big cats and other species.)
The August 18th event began with our Peace Corps Volunteer, Kelly Thayer, teaching community members about HIV transmission and protection, comparing the protection of their bodies with the protection of their animals. Lively debate and discussion about HIV culminated in everyone learning how to protect themselves from HIV, for example by practicing safe sex.
Next, the women took up hammers and nails and constructed a Living Wall by themselves (following a brief instruction by the head of our Living Wall installation team, Juma Nne). The men and women in attendance recognized that women can do anything they set their minds to, including protecting their animals from predators and themselves from HIV. As women are at higher risk for HIV transmission and are a powerful force behind community development, this lesson was one of the biggest take home messages.
All were welcome to participate though some were shy at first. A young Maasai girl about 20 years of age was wandering by and entered the boma where the event was taking place. She was welcomed to join the ladies but was very reluctant to do so at first, hiding behind a tree. However, seeing the adult ladies discussing HIV helped her warm to the idea and in the end she sat with them and engaged in the conversation.
All the attendees left the event with a fistful of condoms, HIV knowledge, and the empowerment that comes with constructing a Living Wall.
Click here to read a recent interview about Dr. Laly Lichtenfeld and the work of the African People & Wildlife Fund on Safaritalk or visit the link below.
Thanks, Safaridude, for a wonderful conversation!
PLEASE NOTE: this post contains some graphic images at the end.
Warriors for Wildlife are young Maasai men selected and trained by the African People and Wildlife Fund to help promote the coexistence of people and wildlife. Some work as watchmen—monitoring lion-livestock conflicts, helping pastoralists find lost cattle, and preventing lion killings. Others are involved in protecting habitats, preserving the lion’s wild prey, and monitoring the wildlife populations roaming outside national parks. Together, they are an important force for conservation in the Maasai Steppe.
Elvis Kisimir, a Warrior for Wildlife, spends much of his time working with local community members to improve the strength of their cattle corrals by installing APW’s unique Living Walls, environmentally-friendly livestock enclosures that keep cattle safe from lions and lions out of the way of Maasai spears. He also monitors big cat-livestock conflicts across a wide expanse of the Maasai Steppe with a team of local assistants. When one assistant received a report of a potential lion poisoning in a neighboring village, Elvis quickly arrived on the scene to take stock of the situation.
The site was disturbing, strewn with the carcasses of vultures that had fed on the poisoned remains of a cow. Taking a closer look at the remains, Elvis found evidence of the purple granules of Furadan – an agrochemical readily used for poisoning big cats and other carnivores in East Africa.
A quick discussion with his assistants revealed that lions killed the cow; the livestock owner laced its remains with the poison in hopes that the lions would return to feed again. Fortunately, Elvis’ team arrived before the lions. And they quickly went to work burning the carcass to prevent any further deaths.
This is just one of several recent episodes in which Elvis and his team have saved lions from a cruel end in the Maasai Steppe. Incredible Warriors for Wildlife, they give us hope for the future. Focused on the present Elvis remarks, “We are working to increase the number of Living Walls currently in place. If we would have reached this community, there wouldn’t be the need to use poison to kill lions and vultures. We could have prevented the conflict in the first place. That makes sense to me.”
Working to prevent conflicts between people and lions is a major component of the African People & Wildlife Fund’s Maasailand Lion Conservation Program, supported in part by the National Geographic Big Cats Initiative. There are currently 100 Living Walls installed in the Maasai Steppe, daily preventing lion-livestock conflicts and helping to avoid such terrible events as witnessed by Elvis and his team.
A great endorsement for Living Walls from the Maasai ladies of Loibor Siret! Click on the link below to read how our Living Walls are helping women in unexpected ways while also preventing conflict between people and lions and protecting critical habitat! We hope you “like” this post!