The Hwange Lion Research Project, which has been running for 15 years, is aimed at understanding, managing and conserving the lion population of Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Park through the collection of valuable long-term monitoring data of population demographics, ecology and behaviour. The project is run under the auspices of the Wildlife Conservation Research Unit (WildCRU) of Oxford University’s Department of Zoology which has grown to be one of the largest and most productive conservation research institutes in the world
Reducing human-wildlife conflict – The Long Shields Lion Guardians
As part of this valuable research, the Hwange Lion Research Project focuses on reducing human-animal conflict, which poses a significant risk to the survival of all carnivores in the wild, through a detailed understanding of the ecological and social factors that influence conflict. In the Hwange area, this conflict arises from lion predation on the livestock of rural communities who frequently retaliate by killing the lion. The Hwange Lion Research Project has implemented several strategies to alleviate lion predation. The employment and training of Long Shields Lion Guardians – 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. The Lion Guardians monitor wildlife populations and alert local herdsmen when a lion is nearby, allowing them to move livestock to safety or to frighten the lion off. Although in its early stages, the initiative has been widely accepted by local communities.
A critical factor that is highly effective in reducing lion predation is the housing of livestock in bomas overnight. The Hwange Lion Research Project is evaluating existing bomas utilised within the communities and is now working with the communities to build and encourage use of community mobile bomas. Early trials have shown a noticeable reduction in lion predation since the introduction of the Long Shields and the boma programme.
Education is an essential element of all conservation projects as it will be the support of rural communities which determines the success of many conservation initiatives. For this reason, the Hwange Lion Research project has designed an illustrated book called Vusa the Lion Guardian for distribution to schools in the area. The comic focuses on the importance of protecting livestock and the children are able to take it home to read to their parents.
Anti-poaching is also a priority because illegal snaring has been shown to have a significant impact on lions. The project employs anti-poaching scouts who patrol the park alongside the Parks and Wildlife Management Authority.
In addition to these measures for reducing human-animal conflict in the area, the Hwange Lion Research Project is uncovering valuable information about lion populations in the area, including data about their long-range movements between protected areas. This research underscores the importance of preserving corridors of natural habitat to allow for different populations to meet and mate – an essential element in the long-term survival of the species as a whole.
HOW YOU CAN HELP BY SUPPORTING SATIB CONSERVATION TRUST
The SATIB Conservation Trust has supported the Hwange Lion Research Project for the past five years, helping to fund the Long Shield Lion Guardians (including the donation of a GWM 4 x4 vehicle) and providing material support for the Anti-Poaching Unit. It has also assisted with an extensive educational programme, PR support and conservation information for visitors to the area. The SATIB Conservation Trust helps to provide clothing and equipment for the Lion Guardians and the Anti-Poaching team as well as insurance and transportation of equipment to the project site. In 2014 the SATIB Conservation Trust plans to provide additional mobile communal bomas for deployment into communities and further educational materials for communities. The SATIB Conservation Trust will also support the extension of the Hwange Lion Research Project to the western boundary and into Botswana.