Post submitted by Rose Hinson and James MacCarthy
While out exploring the Ngorongoro Conservation Area in Tanzania, Ingela and Stuart came across something quite extraordinary. They found all the signs of a lion kill, but the body was missing.
Instead of a carcass, all they found was a trail of blood leading off into the distance. They followed the blood trail from the open area where the kill took place to a region over two kilometers away with much denser shrub cover.
The lions had dragged their kill, a zebra, from the flat, open kill site to a place where they could eat in secrecy. They were cowering in the bushes. Stuart later said, “I’ve never seen lions as absolutely terrified as these ones were.”
Normally lions are arrogant and carefree, they have little to fear in nature, but not here. “It’s dangerous for lions to be out in the open,” explains Ingela. “The original kill site was in an area with people and livestock…Humans and lions have not always gotten along very well.”
Lions that venture outside the safety of Serengeti National Park face a great deal of danger. Wildlife within the park are given special protections, but those protections do not extend outside of the park’s borders. Lions that live outside of the park, or leave the park to hunt, must adapt to the dangers of an environment increasingly dominated by humans.
Ingela Jansson, Stuart Pimm’s guide that day, is a field biologist with the KopeLion and is working hard to develop conservation measures that will ensure lions prosper in the areas around the park. She and her colleagues are working to reconnect lions from Serengeti National Park with lions from the nearby Ngorongoro Crater to help improve genetic diversity. If the lion population becomes inbred, they face increased disease rates and diminished survival and reproduction.
“The crater is only 50 kilometers away, but for lions, the trip can be deadly,” says Ingela. “Human pastoralist communities have lived in the wide swath of land between Serengeti National Park and the Ngorongoro Crater for hundreds of years and inhabitants of this region have historically killed lions in response to lion attacks on livestock.”
Despite the historical conflict between lions and humans in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, there is much hope for the future. KopeLion is working with communities that live between Serengeti National Park and the Ngorongoro Crater to promote peaceful coexistence between humans and lions.
The organization employs community members to track lions, collect observation data, and gather information on the effects of lions on local livelihoods. By encouraging locals to get directly involved in monitoring lions, Ingela and her team hope to build local support for lion conservation. In doing so they aim to eliminate the largest dangers and barriers that prevent lions from travelling between the two areas.
Restoring gene flow between crater and park lion populations and limiting conflicts with humans will help ensure that lions survive and thrive for many years to come.