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Trip report: LionAid in Zambia and Kenya

                                             LionAid meeting with Kitengela Elders in Kenya

Over an 18 day period in June and July, LionAid invested considerable time, funds and energy to promote improved lion conservation programmes in Zambia and Kenya, meeting with communities, grassroots organizations, individuals, researchers, NGOs, government representatives, and the wildlife departments. 

Lion conservation issues in Zambia and Kenya are similar and different. Lions are declining in Kenya largely due to loss of habitat and lion/livestock conflict. Zambia is losing lions due to a highly active bush-meat market destroying the lions’ prey base and unregulated lion trophy hunting. In both countries, there is emerging evidence of lion poaching for body parts and cub smuggling for the pet and captive breeding trades.

Both countries need independent lion population surveys to assess what populations remain and how to concentrate conservation efforts. Zambia proposes to survey lions along with elephants, buffalos, etc via aerial surveys – not a good plan. In Zambia, WWF, the Zambian Wildlife Authority (ZAWA) and lion researchers put together a survey plan that has not been made public, and LionAid was not provided with the information requested during a meeting with the ZAWA board facilitated by the Minister of Tourism and Arts. We call on ZAWA to ensure the lion counts can be independently verified and do not rely on vested interest participation.   

Kenya is now conducting a survey of lions using indirect techniques such as spoor and scat evidence, and we look forward to the results.

Zambia’s challenge

In Zambia we met with Sylvia Masebo, the Minister of Tourism and Arts. She stated lion conservation would be guided by best scientific information in the future. She is under considerable pressure from the pro-hunting lobby to reverse her decision to ban lion and leopard trophy hunting. She is steadfast and is supported by grassroots organizations like our local partners the Lusenga Trust and the Zambian media.  ZAWA Board Chairman Guy Robinson mentioned that conservation programmes for lions would include trophy hunting, a rather surprising opinion given the unknown status of Zambia’s remaining lion population.  

It is our informed opinion that Zambia’s lions are not doing well. Trophy hunting of lions has been ongoing for the last 35 years and has only contributed negatively to lion populations in hunting concessions. Indeed, a recent publication indicates that such negative effects are even apparent in nationally protected areas with bordering hunting zones – lions have been lured out with baits and perhaps other methods. 

Interestingly, ZAWA put together Zambia’s Conservation Strategy & Action Plan for the African Lion in 2009, which has not been enacted. The document states that:

•Zambia is a potential stronghold for remaining lion populations in southern Africa, and additional data is required to comprehensively understand the current status of lions.

•2002 lion estimates for Zambia – 1,500 (Bauer & v.d.Merwe) and 3,575 (Chardonnet). 

•2006 IUCN regional lion range state conference estimates: 1,000-1,850.

•2009 ZAWA Conservation Strategy and Action Plan: 2,105-3,809.

•These conflicting estimates clearly demonstrate the urgent need for investment in scientific studies to determine the country’s lion population.

Based on our estimates using a diversity of information before our visit, we believed that Zambia’s lion population numbered about 850 lions of both sexes and all ages. As an indication of the extent of the discrepancies, the 2009 Zambia lion action plan estimated that between 128 and 238 lions were present in the Lower Zambezi National Park and surrounding GMAs (Game Management Areas, aka Hunting Concessions). Local operators established in the area for many years informed us that they estimate a total of 36 lions based on consistent sightings. This means that there could be an overestimation of about 80% in numbers. By extrapolation of other numbers presented in the Zambia lion action plan, it could mean that the total lion population might be between 414-750, a clear indication that President Sata and his government were entirely correct in announcing a lion trophy hunting ban.

We presented to the ZAWA board that CITES export data indicates that an average of about 60 adult male lion trophies per annum were exported between 2006 and 2011. We requested the scientific basis for ZAWA issuing the following lion hunting quotas: 2003: 112, 2004: 130, 2005: 122, 2006: 91, 2007: 99. In addition, we requested the number of trophy export licenses issued for 2012 and the quotas issued for 2008-2012.   

We also requested ZAWA to provide us with all information on illegal lion killings and numbers of lions killed by ZAWA staff as problem animals. The Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Tourism and Arts expressed to us his concern about commercial lion poaching and cub smuggling to South Africa. 

Kenya’s challenge

In Kenya, lions have been declining most due to loss of habitat, livestock conflict and retaliatory killings. We met with a number of stakeholders including communities, the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS), NGOs, researchers and private individuals. We were privileged to have been accorded a 2 hour meeting with the KWS Director to discuss ways forward. 

We presented a report to the KWS with the following observations/suggestions:

1.Lion numbers

We are encouraged to have heard several reports from interviewees that lion populations in Kenya could be increasing even in conflict areas. We are also encouraged that the Kenya Wildlife Service is undertaking a lion survey across Kenya, with good progress being made to complete the Tsavos as an initial focus. While we could question the particular methodology being used, it does represent an accepted means of surveying large areas in a minimum amount of time. We note that standardization of survey methods was one of the Action Plan points called for at the 2012 LionAid Johannesburg conference of representative range states, and we trust that a diversity of additional information can be included in areas with researcher presence/known lion populations. Such areas could also be used as a test of the survey method when areas with known lion populations are surveyed. 

We note that while the protected areas cannot contain resident lion populations year-round due to prey movements in wet and dry seasons, these protected areas provide the greatest permanence for Kenya’s lions in terms of stable pride structure, reproduction, and consistency of lion presence. We note that outside protected areas and within conflict zones, lions tend to occur as small groups or individuals, some of which travel very large distances. This is expected from dispersing lions seeking suitable territories.

2.Habitat loss

While it is generally acknowledged that most of Kenya’s nationally protected areas are too small to contain the lion numbers in the country, and that wet season/dry season movements occur across protected area boundaries, it is also apparent that there are increasingly limited opportunities for such movements and an increasing lack of existing corridor maintenance. This is largely attributable to a severe lack of land-use planning and unregulated settlement/land subdivision and plot sales. For example, the wildlife migration in and out of Nairobi National Park now has to wind its way through very small corridors and could become entirely blocked in the near future. It is abundantly clear that Nairobi Park’s wildlife (and that of a diversity of other nationally protected areas) is greatly dependent on the availability of large stretches of communal land/private land (ranches). There is therefore an urgent need for regulation of land use that ensures the maintenance of corridors at least. 

On the subject of corridors, it was noted by the KWS that there was a plan to designate land outside nationally protected areas as Lion Conservation Zones, using lions as a flagship species to encourage conservation as a viable land use. In addition, there was an identified need to mainstream lion conservation into national landuse plans, and to ensure greater tolerance of lion/livestock conflict by adding positive value for lions through ecotourism. Others mentioned that while corridors still facilitate wildlife movements and seasonal dispersal, there is a considerable distinction between accessibility of corridors by carnivores that are less well-tolerated than herbivores. The corridors are therefore increasingly unavailable to predators as they enter zones of conflict immediately after exiting the nationally protected areas and conservancies. 

It was mentioned that a potential means of ensuring durability of land suitable for wildlife is by establishing conservancies if landowners can be convinced that the value of wildlife is greater than that of other land uses. It should be up to the KWS to reach out to communities to advise and encourage such land use, and to facilitate the process of establishing conservancies. There exists great potential for the establishment of conservancies on the southern border of Nairobi National Park, and our discussions with area residents indicated a will to do so, but without direct guidance and facilitation from the KWS such a move might not happen until well into the future. Avoiding such delays is crucial, and perhaps the KWS could engage immediately in a form of Community Based Natural Resource Management programmes as a means of ensuring a future for wildlife outside the protected areas as indeed the viability of the protected areas is highly dependent on these lands.

In addition, the establishment of conservancies should not be done piecemeal, resulting in areas perhaps too small to meaningfully impact on the overall goal of maintaining land for significant numbers of wildlife. There should be considerable encouragement to ensure connection of neighbouring conservancies to ensure future viability.

While wildlife occurs in large numbers outside the nationally protected areas, such wildlife at present does not constitute a positive value for the landowners. Indeed, communities have consistently mentioned that this wildlife overall has a negative value because it competes with livestock for grazing resources, spreads diseases like Malignant Catarrhal Fever, destroys crops and fences, competes with livestock for water resources in the dry season, and of course, results in livestock losses through predation. This has been a long-standing problem in Kenya and one that yet remains to be adequately addressed, as maintenance of significant wildlife resources depends to a great extent on a fragile tolerance by communities. 

It was stated that KWS has made significant investments for communities in terms of providing training, infrastructure, schools, cattle dips etc, but the communities remain largely unconvinced that many programmes are adequately addressing their needs and feel that such investments have been made without adequate consultation as to community priorities. The KWS could impact very positively on wildlife tolerance by engaging nationally with communities and coming up with a common way forward.      

3.Lion conflict

There is a diversity of opinion on lion/livestock conflict mitigation. It was noted that such conflict takes on very different dimensions in different areas, and that there is a strong seasonal component on incidence of conflict. For example in the Tsavo West area it was noted that predators can be involved in up to 13 incidents per day. Lion predation mainly occurred during the day when cattle were taken out to graze. There was therefore little interest by the communities in paying for reinforced bomas as they felt that there was no value in such investments. Eleven such bomas established by Born Free (and not subsequently maintained) have been allowed to fall into disuse as a consequence. In other areas, lions attack livestock mainly at night, and there reinforced bomas and the use of night lights was very much seen as a useful deterrent. However, there is evidence that lions are adopting new techniques to circumvent existing deterrents, and a greater diversity of techniques is called for.

It was noted that lions overall are not habitual stock raiders although livestock can become a significant part of their nutrition during wet/dry seasons. Research in Amboseli indicated that lions return to taking wild prey as soon as numbers increase within lion ranges in the dry season. 

It was also noted that in many cases presence of herders was inadequate to prevent conflict. It was noted that with compulsory schooling there was often a shortage of herders, and that some communities could not afford to maintain dogs.

Communities were overwhelmingly insistent on compensation/consolation schemes as mitigation for lion conflict, and were insistent on full market value compensation. There was also concern that consolation schemes might not be a durable means of conflict resolution, and many have already failed due to inconsistent payments and/or shortage of funds. It is our opinion that compensation/consolation has many potential pitfalls and should not be considered the prime mitigation scheme in any area.  

It was also noted that there was a significant and consistent request by communities for more consistent and reliable KWS engagement. KWS is presently seen as a reactive organization rather than a proactive organization, and the communities requested considerable improvement in outreach schemes. These included the need for conservation education, assistance for better management of wildlife populations living among livestock populations, advice from KWS about how to prevent wildlife conflict, and greater responsiveness to incidents. It was also felt that incident response teams should include more senior KWS officers in a position to give advice and guidance. 

It was generally suggested that KWS should establish a dedicated conflict mitigation unit separate from the existing PAC units, as the latter respond only to incidents that have already occurred. Overall, it was suggested that there should be much better dialogue with communities to ensure confidence and trust, and that such meetings should occur on a regular basis especially during seasonal times of heightened conflict. 

As mentioned above, much of Kenya’s wildlife currently exists with the tolerance of various categories of landowners. Apart from the conservancies, and even perhaps including some conservancies, there is a general lack of good wildlife management techniques on such lands. This could be significantly improved with a good wildlife education programme emanating from the KWS and flexible enough to incorporate regional differences. 

4.Suggested ways forward for lion conflict mitigation

Currently, lion conflict mitigation lacks innovation and is dependent on the established reinforced bomas concept and the recent introduction of predator deterrent lighting systems. Singly or in combination such protective measures have resulted in a decrease in predation on livestock in some areas although there is evidence already that lions are adjusting their techniques and are becoming used to the deterrent lights. 

In terms of improvements, deterrents should include a greater diversity of techniques including the use of motion sensors, sound deterrents, etc in addition to existing measures. 

Overall it was felt that investing in predator “proofing” and other simultaneous deterrents would work much better than compensation/consolation measures, even those that encourage better herding practices by only awarding partial compensation.

Two innovative compensation measures were suggested by various parties.  There was general agreement among the chiefs and elders that such innovations would circumvent cumbersome and argumentative partial compensation schemes, would provide a much better alternative than continuous and expensive compensation/consolation programmes, and would be well-received within the communities. 

Modalities remain to be worked out, but pilot programmes could be established in short order once private investor/donor funds can be mobilized. We expect such programmes to prove highly effective with communities, to cost almost nothing compared to compensation/consolation programmes, and to be applicable throughout lion conflict zones in Africa. 

5.Other matters

a)The Kenya Lion Conservation and Management Plan is due for review and we note with appreciation that such a review will be undertaken shortly.

b)Much better dialogue should be established among researchers to ensure sharing of information, identification of common problems, etc. We note that there is an annual predator researcher meeting under the auspices of KWS and we are appreciative of the Director’s invitation to attend.

c)Research should be encouraged in areas where lion populations occur but information is scarce, such as the Tana River Delta, Meru/Kora, etc. 

d)The KWS is requested to place much greater emphasis on lion conservation through participation in awareness schemes, involvement of the media, calling for greater donor investment in the species, and continuing to work with international agencies like CITES and the IUCN to ensure lions are placed in the highest appropriate category of protection. This would include insisting on progress by CITES on a periodic review of lions using scientific data.

e)The KWS is requested to carefully monitor illegal killing of lions by establishing a MILK ( Monitoring Illegal Lion Killing) database that can be readily accessed.

f)The KWS is also requested to carefully monitor any emerging trends in illegal trade in lions and their derivatives including live animals, lion bones, teeth, claws, skins, etc. 

g)The KWS is requested to engage especially with Tanzania on transboundary lion conservation issues at the highest levels.

We were delighted with the welcome we received in both Zambia and Kenya and look forward to returning to both countries in August to continue the work started.

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Posted by Chris Macsween at 16:49

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