Camera Worn by Lion May Aid African Conservation

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Laikipia Predator Project studies have focused on how improved husbandry practices concerning bomas—such as making them thicker and taller and adding the vigilance of a guard dog—offers more protection against predators.

"Because we're taking a rigorous scientific approach we're able to say if you get a dog it is not only going to reduce losses to lions but by this much," said Woodroffe. "And then you can make a decision to have one or of not having one."

One of the project's biggest challenges is figuring out how to end depredation by lions at bomas. Frank said the mere presence of a lion can cause livestock to panic, busting open the boma and availing themselves as dinner. Herders get revenge by killing the lion.

With the help of National Geographic's Crittercam, Frank and his colleagues hope to learn what causes the livestock to panic in the presence of a lion. Is it the feline scent or roar?

"If we knew the answer, we may be able to habituate cattle to that stimulus—scent or noise—so that they do not panic when real lions come around," said Frank. "The Crittercam could be quite useful for that."

Ranch Success

The Laikipia Predator Project has met great success on the region's commercial ranches, helped in part by a steep drop in the price of cattle in the 1990s that caused many ranchers to go in search of an alternative revenue stream. They found gold in eco-tourism.

"It brings in a lot of money and you need wildlife to do that," said Frank.

The result was the adoption of husbandry practices that allowed populations of elephants, zebras, giraffes, and antelope to flourish, serving as food to leopards, hyenas, and wild dogs. Lion populations, once ranchers' greatest villains, are healthy too.

Although the lions may still occasionally kill a cow, goat, or sheep on the commercial ranches, the owners know tourists paying to take a photo of a wild African lion will more than make up for the loss.

The biggest problems today arise when the lions and other predators cross onto bordering communal lands. They are inhabited by thousands of traditional pastoralists, each herding a few hundred sheep, goats, and cattle primarily for their own subsistence.

"There is little wild prey on the communal lands, so any lions that disperse onto the communities have little choice but to kill stock," said Frank. "Then they are killed."

Most of the lions, however, avoid the communities altogether owing to the lack of wild prey, said Woodroffe. To date, only a few of the researchers' radio-collared lions have been killed on the communal lands. But this may change in coming years.

Many of the communities have noticed the value of ecotourism and are eager to attract paying visitors to their lands, said Woodroffe. She and her colleagues are now applying the knowledge they learned on the ranches to the communities.

One piece of scientifically proven advice she hopes to impart is that "where and when you have more wild prey, you lose less livestock to predators," she said.

Such advice, she and Frank hope, will allow wildlife populations to begin to flourish on the communal lands. In turn, the wildlife could attract paying tourists, providing the communities with a source of income stronger than the ailing livestock industry.

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