Lions all over Africa are disappearing at a frightening rate. A hundred years ago there were 200,000 lions – a meager 20,000 are left.
Rural people kill lions as they fear they will kill their livestock, hunters kill lions for trophies and their paws and bones are used in phony Asian medicine.
As their numbers shrink, so does the gene pool; lions who lack DNA diversity are more vulnerable to disease and struggle to adapt to environmental changes. Lions need genetic diversity to adapt to changing weather patterns caused by climate change.
Network for Animals is diversifying that all-important gene pool by helping move lions to different breeding areas far apart from one another. Recently, we helped relocate three young male lions from the Addo Elephant National Park, in South Africa’s Eastern Cape, to Madikwe Game Reserve in the north of the country, a 1,600-kilometer (1,000 mile) journey. By breeding in Madikwe, the genes brought by Addo’s lions will benefit future generations.
Luke Barritt, Network for Animals’ (NFA) campaign manager, explained that such moves are vital but expensive and complex, not to mention dangerous.
The three relocated lions were sedated, and tracking collars were placed on their necks. Then they were loaded into a light plane and flown north for three hours. “Nervous times,” said Barritt. “Lions have been known to wake up in a plane; that’s something you don’t want to happen so vets fly with the lions and monitor them throughout the journey.
“But the risk is worthwhile because these lions are a key ingredient in the future survival of the species,” he added.
On arrival in Madikwe, the lions were fully woken and released into a large enclosure to acclimatize to their new surroundings before being released and settling into their new home.
“NFA works around the world to help animals; everything we do is important but preserving Africa’s lion population is essential,” said Barritt. “It is no exaggeration to say that nearly all Africa’s animals are under threat and we have to act now to save them.”