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Monday, September 24

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Update from the field: Lion Guardians

I’m Danica Wolfe, Mammal Swing Keeper here at Zoo Atlanta and the Quarters for Conservation Champion for Lion Guardians, one of the three programs supported in our 2018-2019 program year of Quarters for Conservation, which sends 25 cents of every Zoo admission ticket to programs for wildlife. I’m excited to share a recent update from Kate Yoshida, Communications Officer for Lion Guardians.

From Kate Yoshida:

“Over the last several months, we’ve seen intense rains and incredible flooding here in Kenya. This kind of crazy weather makes our work at Lion Guardians tough in a few ways. First of all, it’s really hard to get much accomplished when everything is flooded! At one point, our camp was so waterlogged that we couldn’t drive out; instead, we had to hike out seven miles carrying all our equipment. The second big problem with really wet periods is that when wild herbivores have plenty of grass to eat, they get so healthy that they are hard for predators to catch. Lions end up hunting livestock more often during these periods, so in our operating area, we’ve had lots of conflict lately between lions and communities. In addition, families of lions that frequently hunt livestock tend to pass the behavior along over generations, so once it gets going, it’s particularly tough to stop. The Guardians have recently been working around the clock to mitigate the conflicts and keep lions, livestock, and people safe.

Despite all the conflict, we’ve been able to make progress on our other priorities too. In order to conserve lions, we need to have a good estimate of their population in each area so we can figure out whether their numbers are increasing or decreasing. But that can be hard to figure out in places where lions are rare or particularly secretive. We’ve found that by asking the Guardians to collect what’s called “spoor” data (that’s information on where and how often they find lion tracks), we can estimate the density of the lion population with surprising accuracy without having to actually see the lions! This is great news, since not only does it demonstrate that data collected by citizen scientists like Guardians can be robust, but it also gives us knowledge about lion numbers in places where the cats are not easily observed. We have since used this model to predict the lion density in our collaborator KOPE Lion’s site in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, and we look forward to using it in other community areas to better understand the lion populations there.

We’ve also been ramping up our knowledge sharing services. We believe that sharing knowledge is key to achieving long-lasting and broad conservation and livelihood impacts, so we are committed to helping other organizations find ways to adapt our model to different places, cultures and species. Just last month, we held the first-ever training for an organization outside Africa, and which works with a species other than lions. The participants from Nature Conservation Foundation–India spent eight days with us, which were filled with in-class workshops as well as field trips to observe the work of the Guardians and the monitoring team. Sanjay Gubbi, Director of NCF-India, shared that “it was wonderful to meet the Lion Guardians team and see the immense impact that they have on the ground.” We look forward to seeing the next steps NCF-India takes in mitigating human-wildlife conflict in southern India.

The last few months have been busy but productive ones for us here at Lion Guardians.”

Thanks for your continued support of conservation at Zoo Atlanta. Remember to vote for your favorite project at the Quarters for Conservation kiosk next time you’re at the Zoo!”
Danica Wolfe
Swing Keeper, Mammals

(Photo copyright Philip J. Briggs)

Connect With Your Wild Side #onlyzooatl