The Truth About Lions: AWF Researcher Bernard Kissui Comments on Lion Crisis

The Truth About Lions: AWF Researcher Bernard Kissui Comments on Lion Crisis

The Truth About Lions': AWF Researcher Bernard Kissui Comments on Lion Crisis

AWF's Bernard Kissui is among the researchers trying to stem the startling decline in Africa's lion populations.

As part of a feature story in the January issue of Smithsonian magazine, journalist Abigail Tucker met with AWF Lion Researcher Bernard Kissui in Manyara, a busy district located southeast of Serengeti National Park. Along with the other prominent scientists interviewed by Tucker, Bernard offered his perspective on conservation challenges in Tanzania, where the lion population has dropped 50 percent, to fewer than 10,000, and across Africa, where the lion population over the past decade alone has shrunk by 25 percent.

"Africa is not Africa without lions," Kissui says. "As the number of people increases, we take the land that would have been available to the wildlife and use it for ourselves. Africa has one billion people now. Think about what that one billion implies in terms of the future of lions. We are heading into a very complicated world."

Along with population growth, which displaces habitat and increases human-lion conflict, an increasing number of lions are dying as a result of diseases spread from village animals to the lions' prey animals and a declining prey base owing to habitat destruction and the illicit market for bush meat. In recent years, many lions in Kenya and Tanzania have also been poisoned by herdsmen in revenge for attacks on livestock.

"Understandably, livestock owners who lose cattle are angry -- and retaliatory poisonings and spearings claim the lives of scores of lions every year, a trend that is threatening the species' very survival," Bernard said in a separate interview.

Through a specially funded project, Bernard is working with local villagers to protect their herds by reinforcing their bomas (thorn bush enclosure where livestock are kept) with special fencing. Bernard is also educating communities about the habits of lions and developing warning systems that alert people when lions are near.

More broadly, AWF through its Africa Heartland Program is working to secure vast conservation landscapes that generate livelihood benefits for people while giving large predators the habitat and space they need to survive.

To read the full Smithsonian magazine article, click here.

To support Bernard's project, click here.