Humankind: Preying on Nature’s Apex Predator
I don’t think anyone can be more of a predator than a human being.”– Robert Rodriguez
Tomorrow is World Lion Day. But considering how threatened lions are in the wild, it’s pretty naïve to glibly say “Happy Lion Day!” The reality is far from happy.
These beautiful, powerful, graceful animals, the only big cats that live, socialize and hunt in families, are seriously threatened. By all estimates there are now only 20,000 lions remaining in the wild. Their population has declined by 90% in the last 100 years. The land they range has shrunk by 95%.
Since Biblical times, lions have intrigued humans. We fear them for their ferocity; and we revere them for the strength they symbolize. Regardless of the many other wonderful species visitors may see, the most sought-after and talked-about sighting on every safari is lions.
A true privilege
And with good reason! To sit silently in a safari vehicle a few yards from a pride of lions resting in the shade is truly fascinating. It feels like one of life’s greatest privileges to watch their interactions, how they nuzzle each other in greeting, how they move to lie closer together, how patiently the adults tolerate tiny cubs clambering all over them and ‘fighting’ an adult’s tail, and how the sub-adults cuff each other in play-attacks.
The tragedy is that, unless we do something, one day there may not be any lions for our grandchildren to watch – except on video.
In 2015 just prior to our first-ever Tasimba Safari, Cecil, one of the most legendary male lions of Hwange National Park, was lured out of the Park and killed by a US trophy hunter. This is Xanda, one of Cecil’s offspring, who was killed by another trophy hunter two years later. Both Cecil and Xanda were collared lions who were tracked electronically in an ongoing study by Oxford University’s Wildlife Conservation Research Unit (WildCRU). Even their research collars couldn’t save them from being needlessly killed.
We are the predator
As is the case in most threatened wild species, humans are at the root of the decline in lion populations in the wild. It is we who are preying on the apex predator of the wild. Here are some examples:
- Human population growth and our relentless destruction of the wilderness in the name of ‘progress’ has steadily deprived lions of their historical habitat;
- This results in an increase in human/animal conflict – which inevitably ends badly for the animals;
- There is growing demand for lion parts in so-called ‘traditional’ medicines in newly-rich societies;
- Trophy hunting which, while it may only kill a relatively small number of big male lions, has a disproportionate impact on the lion population. This is because, when a pride male is killed, another male or males take over the pride and they kill all the cubs of the previous male in order to establish their bloodline.
Reason for hope
Deeply disturbing as all this is, there is reason for hope. More and more widespread collaboration between wildlife conservationists and rural populations is creating win-win outcomes. The conservancies in Namibia are a great model for the future elsewhere in Africa.
Tasimba’s Keystone Guest, Zimbabwean Dr. Moreangels Mbizah, who we bring into camp to inspire our guests with her amazing work in this collaboration, is herself, an ‘angel of hope’! Her doctorate from Oxford University was in lion research, and her passionate focus now is on working with rural communities close to wildlife areas to help them reap the benefits of peaceful coexistence with wildlife. And it’s working.
So, on this World Lion Day, the challenge for humankind is to do everything possible to reduce our predation of lions. At the same time, we need to do whatever we can to support the growing number of passionate boots-on-the-ground conservation efforts that work tirelessly to sustain healthy recovery in dwindling lion populations.
Be a lion, today and everyday. Be strong, be bold, and fight human predation wherever it occurs.
I believe our biggest issue is the same biggest issue that the whole world is facing, and that’s habitat destruction.“– Steve Irwin
Tasimba. Be a lion. Naturally.
All photos taken by Tasimba staff, on location.
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