Pointing fingers in lion conservation

Sub-Saharan Africa is currently undergoing land-conversions at a very high rate to account for a quadrupling in population over the last 50 years. Unfortunately, African lions are facing the consequences of this urbanization as their habitat is being drastically reduced as well as fragmented. In her wonderful presentation examining the ethics of lion conservation, Hannah Stevens argued that it is the developed world which needs curbing, not the local farmers and indigenous populations.

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An African lion in Namibia, photo: Kevin Pluck

Hannah taught us about the issues that lions are facing in this region, including habitat loss, drought, and increasing subpopulations leading to disease and inbreeding [1]. Lions are also threatened by local farmers, but Hannah questioned the size of the impact that farmers’ killings were having on these populations. In reality, she suggested, farmers depend on this land for livestock and their livelihood, just as lions do. An increase in human-lion conflict as a result of decreasing lion range has led to them attacking farmer’s livestock—can we blame farmers for protecting their income?

Lions are quick to gain sympathy, especially from the developed world. Outsiders believe that solutions must be imposed on locals and farmers to save the species. Actually, indigenous people are killing insignificant amounts of these lions, and when they do, it should be understood that they are doing it to protect their livelihood [3]. Instead of placing blame on these people, we should be tackling the long-term issues that are causing the decrease in lion populations, like habitat fragmentation and land exploitation.

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Example of a khaal in Namibia, photo: Victoria Falls

A few solutions that Hannah proposed to combat this issue is to build khaals (fences) between human settlements/farms and lion ranges [3]. Additionally, Hannah critiqued the current policy making process and suggested that native people and farmers must be heard when making decisions in regards to their land and lions. Most importantly, it is essential that we address the root of the problem—habitat destruction—and not focus on the minimal killings that farmers have done.

In her conclusion, Hannah left us all with a question worth thinking about—do we, as outsiders, have the right to impose our “idealized” rules of lion conservation on these native people’s land? At the end of the presentation, I left the room thinking that we surely do not.

By Nina Berlin


  1. Rosenblatt, E., Becker, M. S., Creel, S., Droge, E., Mweetwa, T., Schuette, P. A., Watson, F., Merkle, J., and Mwape, H. (2014) Detecting declines of apex carnivores and evaluating their causes: an example with Zambian lions. Biological Conservation 180: pp. 176-186.
  2. Tuqa, J., Funston, P., Musyoki, C., Ojwang, G., Gichuki, N., Bauer, H., Tamis, W., Dolrenry, S., Zelfde, M., Snoo, G., and Longh, H. (2014) Impact of severe climate variability on lion home range and movement patterns in the Amboseli ecosystem, Kenya. Global Ecology and Conservation 2: pp. 1-10.
  3. Human-Wildlife Conflict (2015) Available from: http://www.victoriafalls24.com/blog/2013/09/18/namibias-human-wildlife-conflict-under-control [Accessed: 22/10/15]

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