The biggest reason for lions’ retreat is that their former grasslands are being converted into cropland and cities. Losing habitat is the top risk to wildlife in Africa and globally
LOIBOR SIRET: Saitoti Petro, 29, is marching with four other young men who belong to the pastoralist Maasai.
Beneath the folds of his thick cloak, he carries a sharpened machete. Only a few years ago, men of Petro’s age would most likely have been stalking lions to hunt them – often, to avenge cattle that the big cats had eaten.
But, as Petro explains, the problem now is that there are too few lions, not too many. “It will be shameful if we kill them all,” he says. “It will be a big loss if our future children never see lions.”
And so he’s joined an effort to protect lions by safeguarding domestic animals on which they might prey.
Petro is one of more than 50 lion monitors from communities on the Maasai steppe who daily patrol routes to help shepherds shield their cattle in pasture, with support and training from a small Tanzanian non-profit organisation, African People & Wildlife.
Over the past decade, this group has also helped more than 1000 extended households to build secure, modern corrals made of living acacia trees and chain-link fence, to protect their livestock at night.
Across Africa, the number of lions has dropped by more than 40% in two decades, according to data released in 2015 by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, putting lions on the list of species scientists consider “vulnerable” to extinction. They have disappeared from 94% of the lands they used to roam in Africa – what researchers call their “historic range”.
The biggest reason for lions’ retreat is that their former grasslands are being converted into cropland and cities. Losing habitat is the top risk to wildlife in Africa and globally.
On the elevated plains of northern Tanzania, pastoralists have long lived alongside wildlife – grazing their cows, goats and sheep on the same broad savannahs where zebras, buffalo and giraffe munch grass and leaves, and where lions, leopards and hyenas stalk these wild beasts.
What happens in Tanzania will help determine the fate of the species; the country is home to more than a third of the roughly 22500 remaining African lions, according to data from researchers at the University of Oxford.