Coexistence with Lions: the Climate Change Factor

BOISE, ID.A new study finds that changes in climate over the next three decades could increase conflicts between lions and cattle across vast regions of eastern Africa – unless smart actions are taken today.

Corresponding author: Photo © Brett Kuxhausen.

The study, published on February 28, 2018 in the peer-reviewed journal Conservation Biology, used climate projection models and known lion areas of eastern Africa to predict where cattle may be exposed to different levels of Trypanosomosis, a disease that kills millions of cattle a year in Africa, and how those changes may change interactions between cattle and lions.

“Conflict between lions and livestock in Africa is a main contributor to the decline in lion populations. Recently, we have been seeing an increase in the numbers of cattle in areas where bovine trypanosomosis had historically made it too costly to raise cattle,” said Neil H. Carter, Assistant Professor at Boise State University.

“This got us wondering whether climate change was causing large regional shifts in this cattle disease and how those changes may affect lion-cattle conflict in the future.”

The team, led by Dr. Carter, examined where the geographic range of a Trypanosoma parasite will shift by 2050 under two possible climate scenarios: moderate climate change mitigation and business-as-usual. They then overlaid those projections on current lion areas to forecast where interactions between lions and cattle may increase or decrease in the future, assuming the disease regulates cattle production.

(© Paola Bouley | Gorongosa Project)

Although the disease is expected to increase its overall geographic range in the future, the study found that much of those areas where the disease will disappear also happen to be critical lion areas, including several strongholds like Selous Reserve in Tanzania and Niassa Reserve in Mozambique. The authors estimate that the geographic range of the disease will shrink in one-third of the 38 lion areas in eastern Africa. This reduction might allow for greater cattle production, and likely exacerbate lion-cattle conflict.

“This will have significant consequences on conservation planning in eastern Africa and we need to be better prepared for these changes,” said study co-author Dr. Stuart L. Pimm, a Professor at Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment.

(© Brett Kuxhausen | Gorongosa Project)

“A mixture of approaches, such as implementation of community-led conservancies in buffer-zones around parks, and the design of robust wildlife corridors, can help mitigate these impacts and bolster lion recovery, despite increases in cattle production ” said study co-author, Paola Bouley, the Associate Director of Lion Conservation in Mozambique’s Gorongosa National Park.

“There is still a lot we need to learn about how climate change will alter interactions between disease, livestock, and wild predators like lions,” Carter concluded “But our results underscore the importance of working with communities to sustainably share landscapes with lions and ensure that the impacts of livestock on lion habitats are reduced as much as possible.”

The full study can be viewed online HERE.

Funding for the study was through the National Science Foundation’s EPSCoR Program (NSF award IIA-13-0792).

CITATION: “Climate change, disease range shifts, and the future of the Africa lion,” by Neil H. Carter, Paola Bouley, Sean Moore, Michael Poulos, Jérémy Bouyer, and Stuart Pimm.  Conservation Biology. DOI: 10.1111/cobi.13102

Changing Planet, Wildlife

Meet the Author
Paola is Associate Director of Carnivore Conservation for Gorongosa National Park, Mozambique. Her team is dedicated to the recovery and conservation of lions, leopards, wilddogs and hyaena across the Greater Gorongosa Ecosystem. Paola is a 2014-18 National Geographic Big Cat Initiative Grantee.