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The iconic African Lion symbolizes the beauty and majesty of the animal kingdom, yet Africa’s lions are in serious trouble. The worldwide population of lions has plummeted by 43% in the last 20 years and lions now occupy only 8% of their historical range in Africa. This tragic decline is mainly the result of habitat loss due to an increase in human settlers, more agriculture development, and deadly retaliation against lions after they prey upon livestock. The big cats are killed because they destroyed a family’s food source and livelihood. Oakland Zoo firmly believes the success of lion conservation hinges on the involvement and leadership of Africans who live among animal predators. The long-term survival of African Lions desperately depends on programs that allow people and lions to thrive in their shared habitat.
The conflict between wildlife and humans over diminishing resources is a problem throughout the African continent. Lion prides require a large home range, which means they live and travel across a variety of land use types: not just protected areas like National Parks and reserves, but also community conservancies, public lands, and private ranches. In some parks, like Queen Elizabeth Park in Uganda, there are villages within a protected park, leading to many challenges around coexistence. A growing human population has created an increased need for livestock. More people and ranches have caused lions to compete with local communities and their animals for space and food. Adding another layer to this complex situation are the invasive plant species in Africa that have become a detrimental effect on prey animals. Decreased plant food means a diminished population of prey animals. If African Lions don’t have enough wild prey animals in their home range, they end up hunting livestock animals for survival.
In regions in Africa where humans and lions live close together, lions are highly vulnerable when they come into regular contact with people. Conflict occurs when lions attack livestock because families rely upon those animals for food and an income. Retaliation for the attacks often occurs with shooting, poisoning, or spearing lions and other large carnivores.
Oakland Zoo’s Docent Volunteers raised funds to help establish Leopard Village, a community-run socioeconomic development initiative that supports cultural and wildlife conservation through ecotourism. The Center includes traditional huts, a library for village children, and a meeting space for community members to gather and discuss resolutions to human-wildlife conflict. The villagers share knowledge about their pastoral and agricultural livelihoods, perform traditional songs and dances, and sell locally-made crafts.
Oakland Zoo offers eco-trips to Uganda where travelers spend time with the Uganda Carnivore Program - gaining invaluable insight into the challenges facing both the human and wildlife populations in this biologically diverse part of Africa. Eco-trips to Kenya stop by the Ewaso Lion project as well. Both expeditions support lion conservation and awareness, and bring much needed supplies to the conservation teams in the field.
Oakland Zoo provides yearly professional development training for field partners, offering them a myriad of staff skills and resources to enhance conservation efforts. Zoo staff members have also provided training in Human-Wildlife Conflict for leaders in lion conservation. The zoo continues to provide guidance and support for UCP’s conservation, education, and outreach work with the local communities. A first-ever Lion Festival at UCP was even co-created by Oakland Zoo! Additionally, a veterinary team from the zoo has conducted various research on Africian Lions, identifying specific veterinary needs these big cats require for survival in a very challenging habitat.