Livestock is a highly valued part of people’s livelihood. Efforts like these resonate with community members and serve as an acknowledgement of the value of their livelihoods.
Today far more African lions are lost to conflict with humans and their livestock than from any other cause of mortality.
Lion Guardian teams are trained and enabled to react, empower and inform local communities to live in harmony with wildlife
Providing employment for these local guardians places them as champions of safety and collaboration within their communities
Introduced by WildCRU‘s Hwange Lion Research Project, Lion Guardians are local people who educate and empower communities to live in harmony with wildlife. They inform and alert about the presence of lions in the area, and form a link between conservationists and communities by monitoring the location and effects of predators, relaying information and encouraging cooperation –is an important initiative which has proved very successful. Far fewer livestock lost and far fewer lions killed amounts to a win-win scenario for lions, researchers, wildlife authorities and local people, through a shared sense of ‘ownership’ of both the problem and its solution.
Lion conflict cases around Hwange National Park (HNP) in Zimbabwe have declined by a half to three-quarters of their previous levels since the relatively recent introduction of the ‘Longshields Lion Guardian Programme’ in 2012. Long Shields Lion Guardians are local people who form a link between conservationists and their communities, providing information and encouraging cooperation – is an important initiative which has proved very successful. Far fewer livestock lost and far fewer lions killed amounts to a win-win scenario for lions, researchers, wildlife authorities and local people, through a shared sense of ‘ownership’ of both the problem and its solution.
After more than a decade of Hwange Lion Research’s work, their research revealed that only a few lions out of the Hwange National Park population kill livestock. And because Hwange lion researchers have been studying the lion conflict scenario for so long, they can largely predict which individuals might leave the park to engage in stock-raiding and even when this might occur. These lions (often the ‘nomad’ sub-adult males but occasionally females) have been radio-collared and their timed location fixes sent via satellite to an internet reception point, almost in real time. The researcher can then alert the project’s Lion Guardian who is resident in the nearest village, using a mobile phone. The guardian thus warns villagers to avoid grazing their livestock near the lion. And if a lion is lurking near a village, the guardian assembles a large gang of village men who, accompanied by dogs (or sound recordings of barking dogs) and armed with Vuvuzelas (strident horns used at African football matches), set off en masse to the exact location of the hiding lion. A noisy, motivated and determined force of such magnitude is more than a match for a relatively inexperienced lion, who takes off without hesitation – empty-handed. Repeating this near the next village soon teaches the lion that his new way of life is going to be a difficult one, thus encouraging his retreat to safer territory.
Thus not only is livestock far better protected but also the lion is spared. Previously it would have been killed by local people or baited and shot by safari hunters or the wildlife authorities, often just for being in proximity to people. In time, if communities are not being impacted by lions, they realise the greater value of live lions (most of whom now have names given by HLR) which indirectly provide them with vital employment opportunities via the park’s tourism industry.