With the African lion having disappeared from more than 80 percent of its former home range, and numbers dropping by more than half over the last two decades, a variety of stakeholders got together in Johannesburg from January 11 to 13, 2005, to discuss the big cat's future in Africa.
Lion biologists, safari hunters, community representatives and government officials hailing from all over the Southern African Development Community (SADC) plus countries further north, such as Somalia, Ethiopia and Congo, debated the future of the majority of Africa's estimated 23,000-39,000 lions.
Director of the Kenya Wildlife Service, Julius Kipng'etich commented that the multinational workshop had helped the different countries understand each other's issues. "It helped us to understand where other people are coming from - different backgrounds, different philosophies. But at the end of the day, we boiled it down to one main problem : unsustainable lion populations."
The main threats to lion populations were identified as loss of suitable habitat, a reduction in the lion's wild prey base and humanlion conflicts. Regulated trophy hunting was not seen to be a threat, despite Kenya's attempt in November 2004 to curtail trophy hunting of lions through the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Flora and Fauna.
According to Dr Gus Mills, carnivore conservation specialist for South African National Parks and the Endangered Wildlife Trust, "Sustainable trophy hunting is an important conservation action for both lions and their habitats." Regulated trophy hunting was seen by delegates to the conference to be a way to help reduce human-lion conflicts and to generate funds for the poor people directly affected by damage-causing lions, helping to win their support for lion conservation.
The Johannesburg meeting follows on from a meeting held last year in Cameroon where west and central African countries met about the fate of the approximately 1,500 lions left in that part of the continent. Strategies from both workshops will be combined to create a continental action plan for the conservation of the African lion, an important part of which is the identification of "Lion Conservation Units" or areas of high priority for lion conservation.
The two workshops were convened by the World Conservation Union (IUCN) and the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS). Funding was provided the Safari Club International Foundation, WCS and the British government's Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.