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Can we save Africa’s lions and other big cats from extinction?

Lions are vanishing outside of reserves in Sub Saharan Africa.

Panthera vice president George Schaller laments the demise of big cats in the December issue of National Geographic and asks if we as a people have the will to save them.  “Conservation is politics, and politics is killing the big cats,” Schaller writes.

Since 1970, several factors have caused the numbers of these large predators to decline. Human population has more than doubled, there has been a loss of forest land to farming field, and livestock herds have encroached on reserves.

“Lions, once so abundant are vanishing outside of reserves. Shot, poisoned and snared by pastoralist and farmers, partly because they kill cattle and occasionally a person, lions may ultimately survive only in protected reserves.”

How do we manage these reserves to ensure the survival of these large cats? “Most existing reserves are small, able to sustain only a few of the great cats–and these may become extinct due to inbreeding, disease, or some accidental event,”  according to Schaller. He believes conservation has to “enlarge its vision to manage whole landscapes.” He sees the reserve as a “mosaic of core areas, connected by corridors that would allow safe passage, where a large cat can live and breed in peace and security.”

Schaller’s approach would put the incentive on the surrounding community to enforce the laws and policies of the reserve by paying them to maintain a healthy lion population. But he admits that “our greatest challenge is to instill national commitments to save the great cat.”  “Communities” Schaller states, “must be directly involved as full partners in conservation by contributing their knowledge, insight and skill”. Any government involvement has issues of its own, such as insecure funding, and a lack of political will to save wildlife.

Panthera, a member of Aid for Africa, is dedicated to conserving the world’s 36 species of wild cats.