16 Apr

Long Shields: Defending the Lions of Zimbabwe

Panthera

Over the course of history, the name ‘Long Shields’ has been used to identify various ethnic groups, communities and organizations in the southern African nation of Zimbabwe. Starting in the late 19th century, descendants of the Zulu Kingdom were first named ‘Ndebele’ (meaning “people of the Long Shields”) in reference to the Ndebele warriors’ use of a tall, rawhide shield for protection in battle.

Once referencing the armor of war, the term ‘Long Shields’ has since evolved, and now represents an altogether different type of protection carried out on behalf of the lions and local communities of southwestern Zimbabwe.

Lobengula Khumalo - the second and last King of the Ndebele people.

Founded in late 2012, the Long Shields project is a critical lion conservation initiative operated by the Hwange Lion Project, in collaboration with Panthera and WildCRU, in two areas bordering Hwange National Park (NP). Nestled in the westernmost corner of Zimbabwe, Hwange NP exists as the country’s largest state park (15,000km2) that supports a healthy population of nearly 560 lions (a substantial increase from approximately 300 lions that existed just a decade ago thanks to the efforts of the Hwange Lion Project).

Without fencing, however, these lions can easily venture outside of the Park’s boundaries, leading to frequent incidences of livestock depredation. In response, the Long Shields project has worked to gain the confidence and trust of local communities, chiefs and rural district councils, and is now well established in two areas of intense human-lion conflict bordering the Park – Tsholotsho to the east and Mabale to the north.

In these landscapes, the Long Shields project has established a community informant network and now employs nine local men and women (many of whom were raised to hunt lions) to serve as custodians for the species – monitoring local lion populations and mitigating human-lion conflict. Upon initiation, the Long Shields receive intensive training in biological research techniques and conflict mitigation, along with literacy skill development.

Outfitted with these skills, a bicycle, GPS receiver and cell phone, each Long Shield monitors local lion populations, collars and tracks ‘conflict’ lions, informs herders of areas occupied by lions, trains farmers in proper livestock husbandry techniques, tracks down lost livestock, repairs livestock enclosures to help prevent carnivore attacks, and discourages farmers from hunting lions in the future.

Now, in just one year since the project’s implementation, we are happy to report that the Long Shields have made great strides in conserving the lions of southwestern Zimbabwe by reducing incidences of human-lion conflict by 50% in both the Tsholotsho and Mabale regions. In each area, approximately 120 early warnings of lion presence near communities and livestock helped to achieve this drastic reduction in conflict.

In the Mabale area, the Long Shields have also promoted collective herding and recently undertook a collaborative effort with the Africa Centre for Holistic Management to construct a mobile boma, or livestock enclosure, which can house nearly 120 cattle for communal herding.

Moving west to the Tsholotsho region, the Long Shields have developed a unique (and courageous) method of conflict mitigation in the area that has involved mobilizing community members on nearly a dozen occasions to assist in chasing lions back into Hwange National Park using drums and vuvuzelas (horns). Four local lions, fondly named Lobengula, Pape, Njabulo and Mankomo by the Long Shields, were also identified as potential ‘conflict’ animals and collared for monitoring within the past year.

Reaching out to the next generation of Long Shields, the staff from Tsholotsho also recently created and distributed a comic book to local schools containing educational information about conflict mitigation (left).

Concilia Tshuma, one of two female Long Shields, shared, “the lions and livestock of my community are now also the children which I must look after.”

The achievements of the Long Shields project to date have not only proven beneficial for the lions of Zimbabwe, but also helped to improve the livelihoods of local villagers by protecting livestock upon which many farmers depend for income, and provided employment, literacy and scientific training to the Long Shields. In particular, our team is proud to have recruited two female Long Shields to the project in the last year, improving collaboration between both women and men on behalf of their communities and conservation, and providing a new source of employment and empowerment for local women.

Donate to support Panthera’s wild cat conservation initiatives in Zimbabwe and around the world.

  • $30 provides a cell phone for a Long Shield
  • $50 provides monthly food rations for a Long Shield
  • $100 provides biological research techniques and conflict mitigation training for a Long Shield
  • $200 provides a bicycle for a Long Shield
  • $300 provides materials for the construction of a mobile community boma or livestock enclosure
  • $500 supports the printing and distribution of conflict mitigation educational resources to local schools
  • $600 provides a GPS receiver for a Long Shield

Stay tuned for information on the launch of a new, trial Long Shields project in the greater Victoria Falls area bordering Zimbabwe and Zambia.

Learn about Panthera’s lion conservation initiatives carried out through Project Leonardo.

Long Shields Photo Gallery