Lion conservation fund projects

Tsavo Lion Project

Tess and Cub

Just minutes from death, Tess, an adult female lioness with 4 small cubs, was rescued from a poacher's snare by Lion Conservation Fund scientists. Shortly after being released from entanglement - and near-strangulation - her cub tried to remove the remainder of the snare still wrapped around her neck. Today, Tess is healthy and her cubs are fine.

The Tsavo National Park Ecoregion is made up of 10 million acres of expansive wilderness, comprising nearly 3% of Kenya’s entire land surface. The park system includes savannah, mountain ranges and hills, acacia and montane forest. In 1899, the infamous Maneaters of Tsavo terrorized the historic Nairobi-Mombasa railroad that crosses these vast plains when two lions killed nearly 140 railway workers in a just several months while a bridge was being constructed over the Tsavo River. Both adult male lions were maneless, something being examined by LCF and Chicago Field Museum scientists today.

Unfortunately, this global treasure is seriously threatened by habitat loss, overexploitation, and human-wildlife conflict. The vast size of the Tsavo ecoregion requires extensive management, security personnel, and equipment, often in short supply. Practices such as poaching, ivory bandits, bushmeat trade, illegal harvest of plants, livestock grazing, and agricultural expansion are destroying this critically important habitat and decimating its wildlife population.

The Tsavo Lion Project is conducting a census and survey of lions within Tsavo East and West National Parks and the Tsavo eco-region in order to (1) develop the start of a longitudinal picture of pride size, composition, and pride tenures in and around the Tsavo eco-region; (2) study variation in social biology with vegetative cover over a wide range of habitat types, climates, and elevations; and (3) collect biopsy samples for DNA, histological and hormonal assays.

We work together with Kenya Wildlife Service and other organizations to decrease human-wildlife conflict, prevent poaching, and stabilize populations of lions and other predators. Our team is helping to develop the first-ever Tsavo Ecoregion Conservation Management Plan as part of the Ecology Working Group.

The project is also examining the ecological and physiological factors affecting mane variation in lions, in collaboration with an Earthwatch Project headed by Bruce Patterson, Samuel Kasiki, and Alex Gombe on Taita Ranch outside of the park, along an important wildlife corridor between the park systems.

Population surveys and monitoring provide an economical means to gather observations and samples over a much broader area than is practical in focal-animal studies. When conducted in conjunction with focal-animal studies, the data collected offers a regional context for abundance, movements, and genetic population structure. Intermittent, or ‘pulse’ research results in gaps in the database (3) often resulting in misinterpretation of data and flawed conservation efforts. For this reason, we are conducting a long-term monitoring program in Tsavo, a vast protected research site area and comparing this data with similar efforts in the large unprotected lands of the Samburu District.

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"The Lion Conservation Fund program is an excellent conception, combining as it does science, education, engagement of local people and, not least a spectacularly charismatic species for the ecosystem it still inhabits."E.O. Wilson