Lions are languishing in Angola, a country still reeling and recovering from a devastating three-decades-long civil war that ended in 2002. The aftermath has further devastated the species, which was already experiencing catastrophic declines continent-wide. But new findings from Panthera have inspired a plan to restore lions and replenish populations of other large animals in the area, too.
In our new report—recently released and presented to Angola’s government—we have uncovered rich data about lions and other species throughout Luengue-Luiana and Mavinga National Parks, two of the national parks in Africa and major contributors to the Kavango-Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area (KAZA). The largest transboundary conservation region in the world, KAZA spans 520,000 km of Namibia, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Angola, and Botswana—similar in size to France—and houses one of Africa’s largest lion populations.
Astonishingly, we discovered that in these two parks—where lion numbers reached 1,000 just 12 years ago—as few as 10 lions now remain. This is likely due to the fact that lions have little to eat—few prey species remain due to bushmeat poaching. Smaller carnivores, however, were found to be faring better, with the survival of approximately 151 cheetahs, 518 leopards, and possibly even 600 African wild dogs.
Until this survey, little was known about the status of the lion in this and other Angolan parks and areas. What we did know, however, is that over the past 20 years, lions have succumbed to illegal killing, habitat loss, and poaching, with only 20,000 surviving individuals across the whole of Africa.
Seeking answers and change, we signed a memorandum of understanding with Angola’s environment ministry in July 2015 giving us permission to start our research of the status of lions in Angola and training for local scientists.
Throughout the dry season months of 2015 and 2016, we used track counts and camera trap surveys to estimate distribution and abundance of lions and other large carnivores and their prey, documented human activities, and conducted an exploratory mission to identify areas that could serve as tourist destinations. We also looked at the human element behind the decimation of lion numbers—and proposed ways to protect ecosystems and unlock economic potential for the people sharing their land.
We found that a complex brew of issues has contributed to the devastation of wildlife populations in Luengue-Luiana and Mavinga. People are living in the park as a long-term consequence of the civil war, during which they turned to hunting bushmeat to survive. Now, most residents are very poor and continue to hunt wildlife for nourishment and a way to make money.
Now that we have our new findings, Panthera is looking for support to engage communities in conservation efforts that will also improve their lives, including training game guards to monitor wildlife crime; incentivizing the voluntary submission of guns, gin traps and other tools used to hunt wildlife; and supporting communities to establish roads and tourism routes.
Stay tuned for more updates on our work to bring Angola’s 1,000 lions back.
Learn more about Project Leonardo—our initiative to boost Africa’s lions by 50 percent over the next 15 years.
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