Escalation of Human-Wildlife Conflict is never the answer

This dramatic, duisturbing photograph sees local people in Bengal trying to dissuade wild elephants with firecrackers and burning balls of tar. Whilst elephants are highly destructive, dangerous, unpredictable, this type of conflict is unlikely to be productive.

An adult elephant will not be stopped, even by elephant proof fencing. As human land-use encroaches on traditional habitats and pathways of wild animals these conflict increase in frequency. Deterrents such as fencing, chilli ropes have an effect, but also the education of local people on how to respond to elephant encroachment.

A further challenge is to get officials, developers and local people to understand how to reduce the disruption of habitats by building in unsuitable areas.

An adult elephant and a calf on fire flee a crowd of people: The picture was taken by Biplab Hazra, a wildlife photographer from West Bengal.

© Biplab Hazra/Sanctuary Asia/Facebook The picture was taken by Biplab Hazra, a photographer from West Bengal.

Conflict causes escalation of consequences, for people, for wildlife or both.

Elsewhere in Assam, efforts by conservationists to give early warning to local crop producers when elephant herds are drawing near allows families and communities to remove crops from fields before the mammals encroach on the agricultural landscape. Whilst this arrangement might not be optimal, it is an example of the type of tolerance and human cooperation which reduces conflict and removes incentives of elephants to visit landscapes which would otherwise be attractive for foraging.

Other challenges occur with big cats, which can easily pass unnoticed in urban landscapes let alone villages and agricultural areas. this means living with a number of challenges discussed elsewhere in this blog.

Local people chase a leopard in Guwahati, Assam, 2009 (northeast India). The animal was tranquilized by a local wildlife official and relocated. However three people in the village had already been mauled by the big cat.

Further information these images:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/earth/earthpicturegalleries/5023005/Animal-pictures-of-the-week-20-March-2009.html?image=1

https://www.msn.com/en-gb/news/world/photo-of-elephant-and-calf-fleeing-fire-throwing-mob-wins-top-prize/ar-AAuyqxH?ocid=spartanntp

Towards a global approach to lion conservation

Lions survive in 25 countries, but the habitats are highly fragmented, even in the strongholds of south eastern Africa. The ecology and breeding biology of the species means that discrete ranges are unlikely to be a long term solution to maintain numbers. This most likely involves seeking solutions where the species comes into contact with human communities and modified habitats. Biology is ‘necessary, but not sufficient‘, to inform and deliver conservation.

Other measures and resources need to be drawn upon if range-wide solutions can be developed. A recent study suggests that a range of measures is necessary to achieve the type of sustainable outcomes needed to support the species.

In addition t this, since lions themselves present threat to other endangered species such as cheetahs, wider systemic understanding of lion habitats and ecology is needed.

Reading

Anon (2017) Lion conservation requires effective international cooperation. https://phys.org/news/2017-09-lion-requires-effective-international-cooperation.html

Trouwborst, A et al. (2017) International law and lions (Panthera leo): understanding and improving the contribution of wildlife treaties to the conservation and sustainable use of an iconic carnivore, Nature Conservation 21: 83-128 (13 Sep 2017) https://doi.org/10.3897/natureconservation.21.13690

How to win another 10 years for the Moroccan lions

The lions which are direct descendents from the captive collection of the Sultans and later Kings of Morocco are all in zoos. There is a healthy group of lions in Temara Zoo in Rabat, plus even more related individuals spread across a dozebn or so zoos across Europe, with around 100 animals in captivity overall. Ten years ago there were about 80 of these lions and many of those were beyond breeding age, or had already contributed significantly. Just around then, old and alone, the last female with genetic representation from founder animal 7 died and with her 1/12th of the genetic basis of the captive population.

Unfortunately until the studbook was developed from detailed examination of handwritten zoo records and a sweep of various databases, websites and personal contacts acrtoss European zoos the precariousness of the captive population was unknown. However since then a number of zoos have joined the programe to breed the animals and there have been successful transfers that have made the population a lot more healthier. When the studbook was devised it was hoped that a reinvigorated programme would give the zoo population another 10-15 years breathing space as a viable captive group.

However a few animals are underutilised – males needing suitable females – and some breeding pairings have been completely unsuccessful. Greater cooperation is needed between zoos to maximise the strenght of the whole population, not just the small groups held in each zoo exhibit. The first ten years since the revival of the breeding program has since passed. Concerted effort and active partnership is needed now to get inactive males and females together to develop breeding pairs.

Reading:

Black S.A. (2016) The Challenges of Exploring the Genetic Distinctiveness of the Barbary Lion and the Identification of Putative Descendants in Captivity, International Journal of Evolutionary Biology. vol. 2016, Article ID 6901892, 9 pages, 2016. doi:10.1155/2016/6901892

Black S, Yamaguchi N, Harland A, Groombridge J (2010). Maintaining the genetic health of putative Barbary lions in captivity: an analysis of Moroccan Royal Lions. Eur J Wildl Res 56: 21–31. doi: 10.1007/s10344-009-0280-5

Yamaguchi N, Haddane B. (2002). The North African Barbary lion and the Atlas Lion Project. International Zoo News 49: 465-481.

Occasional sightings suggest lions cling on in West Africa

Currently the West African populations of lions are Critically Endangered (Henschel et al., 2014) and currently occupy only 1% of their historical range. The presence of lion in Ghana is therefore very important, although it is known that many west african sub-populations cling on in single figure numbers.

A recent paper (Angelici and Rissi, 2017) suggests a recent sighting 11 years since the last confirmed lion presence in Mole National Park. If present the small number of individuals (perhaps as few as two or three) suggested by the sightings reported in the paper, might appear insignificant. Neverthless many populations in West africa are of this size, totalling perhaps less than 200 across the entire region – the ast wild representatives of the IUCN’s newly designated northern subspecies of lion Panthera leo leo (the rest are in India).

The few individuals in Mole are a sub population of a tiny population across Senegal, Burkina Faso, Benin, Niger and Nigeria (Henschel et al., 2014), which itself is a tiny population of Panthera leo leo globally (probably less than 2000 animals including in captivity).

Although we rarely consider individual animals in conservation, with lions it has reached that stage. If a few individuals can be conserved in Ghana, they might provide hope for continuation across the region and for the northern sub-species Panthera leo leo as a whole.

References:

Angelicic, F.M. and Rossi, L. (2017) Further lion, Panthera leo senegalensis Meyer, 1826, sightings in Mole National Park, Ghana, and possible first serval Leptailurus serval Schreber, 1776 record after 39 years (Mammalia Felidae). Biodiversity Journal, 8 (2): 749-752

Henschel, P. et al. (2014) The lion in West Africa is Critically Endangered. PLoS ONE, 9: e83500. Doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0083500

 

 

So what’s the big deal about a bunch of zoo lion cubs?

Five lion cubs have recently been shown to the public for the first time with great fanfare at Neuwied zoo in southwestern Germany.

The litter of cubs — three males Baz, Chaka and Sab and two females Jumina and Lin  — were born at the zoo in April 2017,  to six-year-old female Zari (previously from Hannover zoo) and the incumbent male, Schroeder (who was born in Olomouc Zoo in the Czech Republic), who is nearly ten.

So what is the big deal? The zoo presents them as barbary lions – certainly Schroeder and Zari are established on the European zoo studbook for lions descended from the King of Morocco’s collection. Around 300 animals are lsited on the studbook going back to the origninal animals taken form the King’s Palace in the late 1960s and placed in Rabat zoo.

Since there are only a few hundred lions in India and a few hundred in West and Central Africa which represent the northenr subspecies of lion, Panthera leo leo (Bertola et al, 2016; Black 2016). the north african population is no loinger present in the wild, and its most likely remnant are the 100 or so animals in european Collections and in the Mrooccan collection at Rabat. So these five new cubs may yet have an important role to play in lion conservation.

Reading:

Asian Age (2017) German zoo displays rare barbary lion cubs http://www.asianage.com/photo/life/290617/german-zoo-displays-rare-barbary-lion-cubs.html

Associated Press (2017) 5 rare barbary lion cubs go on show in a zoo in Germany

Bertola, L. D.,et al. (2016) Phylogeographic Patterns in Africa and High Resolution Delineation of Genetic Clades in the Lion (Panthera leo). Scientific Reports 6:30807. DOI: 10.1038/srep30807

Black S.A. (2016) The Challenges of Exploring the Genetic Distinctiveness of the Barbary Lion and the Identification of Putative Descendants in Captivity, International Journal of Evolutionary Biology. vol. 2016, Article ID 6901892, 9 pages, 2016. doi:10.1155/2016/6901892

Spot the lion habitat

Typical savannah landscape in southern Africa

Lions are commonly associated with the savannah grasslands of southern and southeastern africa. They live in large prides, hunting herds of antelope and other ungulates of the grasslands. However these expansive grasslands are specific habitats to sub-saharan lions of eastern and southeastern Africa Panthera leo melanochaita. These habitats are the heartlands for lions in the modern world.

Unexpected sight of lions in desert dunes, southwest Africa

Dry forest in the Gir, India

Yet lions also survive in quite doverse habitats, such as the desert dunes of Namibia.

This would have been true for the northen subspecies Panthera leo leo in areas of the middle east and North Africa. Camels were known to be tracked by lions on isolated trails in the late 1800s. Animals were reported in the desert firnges of southern Morocco up to the 1930s and were also known in isolated forests and oases in western Algeria,

For  today’s remnant population in India mostly live in the dry forests of the Gir. These forests are less productive in dry years with prey numbers falling under challnging conditions. Some lions have chosen to venture beyond the Gor,, across agirculaural land and into new but limited habotats in the coastal forests and dunes of Gujarat. Smaller populations survive in the forests of central and west Africa, in the deserts of southwestern Africa.

Northern lions also previously roamed the marshes of the middle east, the mountains of North Africa occasionally up above the snowline, down to the coastal forests of the Mediterranean.

Image result for cork forest algeria

Mediterranean cork oak forests would seem to be an unfamiliar habitat for lions.

High Atlas plateau, North Africa. The last lions in Morocco were seen at high altitudes in the 1930s and 1940s.

Reading:

Black, S. A. (2016). The Challenges and Relevance of Exploring the Genetics of North Africa’s “Barbary Lion” and the Conservation of Putative Descendants in Captivity. International Journal of Evolutionary Biology, 2016. https://www.hindawi.com/journals/ijeb/2016/6901892/abs/

Yamaguchi, N. and B. Haddane, B. (2002) “The North African Barbary lion and the Atlas lion project,” inInternational Zoo News, vol. 49, pp. 465–481, 2002

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Decline of the cats – the precipice is nearer than we think

In 1970 there were nearly 40,000 tigers. In the late 1990s this was estimated to be 5,000 – 7,000. Today there are less than 4000.

The global cheetah population has declined startlingly to today’s count of just 7,100 individuals, confined to 9% of its historical distributional range (Durant et al, 2017). 60 – 70% of previous lion and cheetah habitats in West and Central African protected areas have  seen recent disappearance of both species (Brugière, Chardonnet, & Scholte, 2015).

In 2013 analyses established that the African lion has lost at least 75% of its original habitat, with fewer than 35,000 wild African lions remaining (Riggio et al (2013).Bauer et al. ( 2015 ) assessed the trend of 47 relatively well-monitored lions in Africa, and found an alarming population decline of about 38 % over 21 years (1993–2014). In 2015 the IUCN estimated that fewer than 20,000 lions remain. Worse, it has been suggested that only 6 populations should be considered as biologically viable.

Even the adaptable leopard is now disappearing from areas of its previous range (Giordano et al , 2017).

Threats to large cats include conflict with humans, reduction of habitat and decline of prey species, all of which are inter-connected. The picture is bleak.

Further reading:

Bauer, H., Packer, C., Funston, P.F., Henschel, P. & Nowell, K. 2016. Panthera leo. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2016: e.T15951A97162455.http://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2016-1.RLTS.T15951A97162455.en.

Brugière, D., Chardonnet, B., & Scholte, P. (2015). Large-scale extinction of large carnivores (lion Panthera leo, cheetah Acinonyx jubatus and wild dog Lycaon pictus) in protected areas of West and Central Africa. Tropical Conservation Science, 8(2), 513-527.

Durant, S. M., Mitchell, N., Groom, R., Pettorelli, N., Ipavec, A., Jacobson, A. P., … & Broekhuis, F. (2017). The global decline of cheetah Acinonyx jubatus and what it means for conservation. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 114(3), 528-533.

Giordano, A. J., Tumenta, P. N., & Iongh, H. H. (2017). Camera‐trapping confirms unheralded disappearance of the leopard (Panthera pardus) from Waza National Park, Cameroon. African Journal of Ecology.

Goodrich, J., Lynam, A., Miquelle, D., Wibisono, H., Kawanishi, K., Pattanavibool, A., … & Karanth, U. (2016). Panthera tigris. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2015: e. T15955A50659951.

Riggio J, Jacobson A, Dollar L, Bauer H, Becker M, et al. (2013) The size of savannah Africa: a lion’s (Panthera leo) view. Biodiversity and Conservation 22: 17–35.

Sandom, C. J., Faurby, S., Svenning, J. C., Burnham, D., Dickman, A., Hinks, A., … & Macdonald, D. (2017). Learning from the past to prepare for the future: Felids face continued threat from declining prey richness. Ecography.

 

Let’s get serious about the Northern lions

We are familiar with the lions of Africa ranging from Southern Africa up through East African strongholds as well as the smaller populations of central and western African states. There are also Asia’s last lions in the Gir forest Gujarat, India.

Indian lions are the remnant of a huge former northern range which covered several states across northern India, through to modern-day Pakistan and westward through Iran, Iraq, Syria, Jordan, through the eastern Mediterranean states south of the Sinai desert coast through the western coastal areas of Arabian peninsular, into Egypt, and along the southern Mediterranean coast and mountain ranges of north Africa. They persisted further north in Turkey and Azerbaijan, Georgia and Armenia until the 19th century. Archaeological studies show they ranged further north along the Black Sea coasts during human prehistory. Intriguingly they still persisted in southern Greece into early historic times as described in Greek literature.

From this vast range today’s picture for lions is much diminished. Genetic studies now show us that the lions of Central and Western Africa are part of this northern population.

When we look at the tens of thousands of lions across Eastern and Southeastern Africa we should not take them for granted. Just ten years ago there were thought to be 40,000. Today perhaps only 20,000. We need to be vigilant in their conservation.

Further Reading:

Bertola, L.D., Tensen, L., van Hooft, P., White, P.A., Driscoll, C.A., Henschel, P., Caragiulo, A., Dias-Freedman, I., Sogbohossou, E.A., Tumenta, P.N. and Jirmo, T.H., 2016. Correction: Autosomal and mtDNA Markers Affirm the Distinctiveness of Lions in West and Central Africa. PloS one, 11(3).

Black S.A. (2016) The Challenges of Exploring the Genetic Distinctiveness of the Barbary Lion and the Identification of Putative Descendants in Captivity, International Journal of Evolutionary Biology. vol. 2016, Article ID 6901892, 9 pages, 2016. doi:10.1155/2016/6901892

Schnitzler, A.E. (2011) Past and Present Distribution of the North African-Asian lion subgroup: a review. mammal Review, 41, 3.

 

 

Captive lions from North Africa: an early history

Photo published for Barbary lion skull - Google Arts & Culture

The oldest skull of a Barbary lion found in the UK was recovered in the 1930s by workmen digging the moat at the Tower of London. The skull turned out to be the remains of an animal that was kept in the royal menagerie 700 years ago. A second skull was discovered at around the same time.

Scientists at Oxford and the Natural Histotry Museum determined that the second one of these lions lived between 1420 and 1480. The other dating showed that the older remains were of an animal that lived between 1280 and 1385. So these remains are the oldest for a lion found in the UK since the extinction of wild cave lions during the last ice age.

The sultans of Morocco kept their own lions in a lion garden at various palaces in medieval times. There are even stories (and artistic depictions) of prisoners being thrown to the animals.

NHM (2016) Barbary lion skull from London

http://www.nhm.ac.uk/discover/barbary-lion-skull-from-the-tower-of-london.html

Lions in Pakistan – wild or released – implications?

The last of lion killed in the regions of Pakistan was shot in 1842 near Kot Diji in Sindh.

However, with conserved population of the species (hosted by the Gir Forest in Gujarat, India) now expanding to the south and west, the possibility of lions leaving their protected areas and eventually expanding their range north or west into Pakistan is a possibility.

pakistan-lions-for-sale

Recent social media alludes to active trade in lion cubs

There are even hints that lions have already moved into the Pakistani countryside bordering India (Naqaush, 2014).

Is another explanation possible? Might captive animals be  released in remote areas and then been seen and considered ‘wild’ specimens?

Recent social media posts allude to an active trade in cubs. When cubs become adults they become a new proposition. What if a collector or breeder ends up with too many males or an incompatible pair? Where do these captive lions come from? India is unlikley, africa, or african-origin captive history is more likely. WHat if those ex-captives hybridise with the wild asiatic lion?

The local countryside might, to an unwise but disgruntled owner, seem a good place to make unwanted animals ‘disappear’…for lion conservation it could be a whole new problem.

Reading:

Mulki , M.A. (2012)A Walk on the Wild Side. The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, January 29th. http://tribune.com.pk/story/326966/a-walk-on-the-wild-side/

Naqaush, T. (2014) Asiatic lion spotted in AJK national park, DAWN Febraury 5thhttp://www.dawn.com/news/1085010/asiatic-lion-spotted-in-ajk-national-park