Sunday, 23 June 2013

Are fences the way forward for cat conservation?

Source: Africa Geographic
Date: 11 June 2013
By: Chloe Cooper

Conservation-minded people seem to think that fencing in our big cats may be best for their safety (see previous blog post Half of Africa's Lions Facing Extinction). It seems entirely contradictory that people who are striving for the openness of borders and the development of transfrontier parks and conservation areas are among those who are supporting the notion of erecting fences and creating separate reserves in order to contain our wildlife. Transfrontier areas aim to extend park boundaries across countries and through human settlements in order to re-establish the ancient migration pathways throughout Africa, as the same time equipping people with the tools required to live harmoniously with the wild animals. It is a spectacular thought. Imagine an Africa of yesteryear – a wild continent, rich in resources, wonderful wildlife, cultural celebration and the sustainable living ethic of a greedless nation. Without the introduction of capital to the continent and the financial implications associated with success, it is possible to imagine that we would not be facing a conservation crisis such as the one that faces us today.

Part of what makes lions such a remarkable success as a species was investigated in an article published by Africa Geographic in May – ‘Brawn and Brains’ by Anthony Ham. He observed that lions in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve (CKGR) were a lot calmer and more confident than their relatives beyond the border. Those lions living nearer to human settlements demonstrated fear and skittishness when approached by a vehicle, while the cats in the CKGR were not unnerved. It is an obvious association. Lions preying on livestock outside park boundaries are shot and killed, so they have developed a fear of anything human. Those who prey on game within reserves are not at risk of attack by humans, thus they do not fear them.

When I asked Sabi Sand professional field guide Jason Kipling to comment on the ‘border-safety’ intelligence lions seem to possess, he related this level of association to the behaviour of elephants in Botswana. He told me that the wildlife conservationist Pat Dewil had reported that elephants demonstrated vastly different behaviour within just a few metres of a hunting zone. In the hunting area, they became fearful and anxious; when they moved just a few strides away into a ‘safe’ zone, they became calm and relaxed – a replica of the behaviour in lions, as described by Anthony Ham. This information plays a vital role in the movement to protect Africa’s lions. Jason is of the opinion that containing lions within the protective borders of national parks and reserves is the only way forward if we are to save the species from extinction due to human conflict and hunting. He emphasised that the risk of lions being killed in areas like the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, where livestock grazes nearby, is much higher due to the lack of fencing separating predator and prey. One would think that this activity is likely to result in poor quality lion-viewing due to the stresses experienced by animals that have been exposed to the trauma of shootings.

n more ways than one, the loss of lions will devastate Africa – that much is certain. It is not purely the job of ‘greenies’ to protect a species. It falls upon the shoulders of governments to promote the glory of their countries from a tourism perspective, in order to support economical demands. Jason provided me with some real insight into the not-so-welcome notion of physically segregating our wild lands and enclosing Africa’s biggest cat.

If any animal is to be kept within a boundary, we need to make sure that the balances are right in terms of numbers. National parks and private reserves probably have more lions than they can support, due to the fact that they promote business. However, if all the territories are not occupied and there is enough prey to support lions within the parks and reserves, there should be no resason for the cats to breach the fenced boundaries. In a nutshell: strict population control of both predator AND prey species needs to be practised if we want to successfully keep lions in fenced and protected game reserves.

For full artilce visit: Is Fencing in Our Big Cats for the Best?, Africa Geographic, June 2013

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