Sintika is a 5-year-old lion born in Namibia’s Mudumu National Park, a protected area in which Panthera monitors lions along with our partner the Kwando Carnivore Project.
For most of his young life, Sintika was very safe. Kwando’s conservationists prevent human-wildlife conflict and poaching so effectively that even if Sintika did stray outside of the park and into the neighboring community conservancy land, he would be only a little less safe. This conservation strategy of safeguarding the landscapes surrounding protected areas as well as those within them helps to create corridors through which lions, their prey, and other species can navigate and settle.
So, in April, Sintika decided it was time to cast a wider net. His satellite radio collar allowed us to follow his every move as he searched farther and farther from home, presenting us a prime opportunity to study the habitats through which lions disperse.
First, Sintika crossed the Kwando River into Botswana’s Kwando Concession Area, a distance of about 20 kilometers. Here he no doubt entertained tourists, but was also in the crosshairs of the Horseshoe males. No good. He then wandered up and down the river system, exploring farther south to the Selinda Spillway, which links the Okavango Delta to the Linyanti Swamps.
Time and again, he’d enter well-protected conservation areas only to find they were already occupied by established prides, offering no opportunity for a young lion to stake his claim.
Sintika’s quest eventually found him farther west, where the Selinda Spillway meets the Okavango River, in a wildlife management area known as NG12. This area is increasingly settled by people with little tolerance for carnivores—four lions have been killed there in the past year.
Still, finding this spot was a chance for Sintika to carve out a space of his own, as there are few other adult males in the area. And lucky for Sintika, NG12 lies within the study area of another conservation NGO, the CLAWS Conservancy. Much like the Kwando Carnivore Project of his motherland, CLAWS oversees a community-based conservation program called Pride in Our Prides that is dedicated to fostering co-existence between wildlife and local people.
Sintika somehow sensed and seized this opportunity: He is now mating with lionesses in his new home. This is the very definition of successful dispersal, and an important rite of passage for a young lion.
However, securing a lion’s dispersal path is increasingly challenging, as the landscapes surrounding protected areas become more heavily populated by people every year.
Sintika flirted with risk during the first weeks in his new home, killing a highly valuable adult ox. Hopefully this does not become a habit, or it is likely that in time we’ll be reporting the story of his untimely death instead of celebrating his prosperity raising litters of cubs.
CLAWS and Kwando Carnivore Project work tirelessly to solve the challenges that occur when lions live alongside people, like those Sintika faces in his new territory. They manage studies on survival and breeding rates, monitor the fate of dispersing young males, conduct anti-poaching and anti-trafficking work, and implement policy—all to secure functional breeding populations of lions and halt current declines.
We at Panthera are faced with many questions: How do we scale up these efforts to be effective both locally and over a larger geographic area? How do we convince local people to value and appreciate lions? Can lions truly co-exist with humans outside of protected areas, or, at the very least, safely traverse through the areas we occupy when they disperse?
We believe there are positive answers to all of these questions, and that Sintika’s story is a testament to the possibilities. We’re also realistic enough to understand that such endeavors require resources and support beyond what relatively small NGOs and stakeholder groups can achieve on their own. Lions—all wildlife, really—and the people expected to live with them need urgent attention from national governments and world development organizations.
Currently, agencies in Africa are largely failing to integrate human development with nature’s vital environmental services. Furthermore, although many scientists believe that empowering rural communities with the rights to manage and benefit from their natural resources is the best way forward, most African countries don’t do this at present.
Sintika’s story highlights these areas of contention. He left the safety of a protected area for relative insecurity in communal lands, and thus faces a very pessimistic future—unless he can find sanctuary in another protected area.
We are holding out hope that our conservation work can turn the tide for lions quickly enough that young ones like Sintika can live up to all their potential. Will you join us?