aerial view of a stream
Loisaba Conservancy Loisaba, shown from the air in Laikipia, Northern Kenya. © Ami Vitale

Stories in Africa

When Lion Habitat Disappears

Livingstone the Lion Ran Out of Space ... and Out of Options

TNC Africa Regional Director.

Matthew Brown is Regional Managing Director, Africa at The Nature Conservancy.

More

On a cold night in September in northern Kenya, a young male lion named Livingstone was stuck between a rock and a hard place: He could venture into an area populated with people or with other male lions who would try and defend their territory. Livingstone chose what he saw as the safer option, and it cost him his life.

While it is not uncommon for male lions to kill each other in territory disputes, this problem is made much worse when lions have nowhere to go.

Livingstone, who is wearing a collar through a project with partner Lion Landscapes and Ewaso Lions, has shown us that, despite the threat of territorial males near Loisaba Conservancy, he decided that venturing into the surrounding communities was an even greater risk. And so he stayed, lurking around the edges, until eventually he was killed.

While Livingstone’s death won’t make headlines like “Cecil the Lion,” habitat loss — from development, overgrazing, and conversion of land to agriculture — is the biggest threat people pose to lions. When settlements and farms pop up in the landscape, lions aren’t just more likely to fight with each other, they become targets of the humans who rightly don’t want their cattle to become the lions’ next meal.  

three lions
Lion Trio Lions at Loisaba Conservancy in Kenya, where Lion Landscapes, Loisaba Conservancy, and TNC Africa are working to reduce conflicts between lions and people. © Ami Vitale

A recent study by Panthera found that lion numbers have dropped 43 percent over the last 20 years to as few as 20,000 individuals living in the wild. Even more dramatic is the fact that lions now occupy only 8 percent of their historic habitat in Africa.

As the top of the food chain, lions are critical to wildlife management. Without lions, the ecological balance of our African savannas would be severely altered. Lions provide for all the scavengers like hyena, jackal, and vultures who eat the lions’ leftovers. So if lions are doing well, then the entire ecosystem is also doing well.

Maintaining the balance of competing land uses is a global issue. Africa’s population is expected to rise from 1 billion people to 2.5 billion in the next 35 years. Many conservation organizations, like The Nature Conservancy, are trying hard to protect nature both for wildlife and as the source of all our food, water, and energy. 

In northern Kenya, wildlife conservancies like Loisaba are created to protect wildlife habitat while also creating jobs and taxable income for local governments via a primary ecotourism business model. Integrating community managed livestock grazing and wildlife management is actually very compatible, as long as each has enough room to roam. Our key integrated landscape strategy aims to protect large ecosystems for livestock grazing and iconic wildlife such as elephants and lions.

Livingstone’s death is a reminder of what happens when we take away the wide, open spaces that wildlife need to thrive. The tracking collars Livingstone and other lions wear are helping us figure out which routes they are using so we can focus conservation efforts in those areas. By using this kind of data to increase habitat connectivity, we can ensure that lions like Livingstone can move freely and find their own territory.

Collars for Coexistence 

We are supporting partner Lion Landscapes on a new initiative to reduce conflict between people and lions near Loisaba Conservancy. Specialized GPS lion collars provide livestock owners with real-time lion movement data via a mobile app and trigger alarms when they approach settlements. A group of national police reservists are being trained as Lion Rangers, who will respond to incidences of human-lion conflict and act as wildlife ambassadors to the community. 

Check out the photos below for an inside look at this new program or find out how you can help.

TNC Africa Regional Director.

Matthew Brown is Regional Managing Director, Africa at The Nature Conservancy.

More About Matt Brown