Our directory of things of interest

University Directory

Into the lions' den

Into the lions' den
19 May
2018
Changing temperatures in East Africa are set to upset a delicate balance between wild lions and cattle herders

As growing human populations demand grazing space for livestock, Africa’s now less than 20,000 wild lions find themselves constantly competing for space with the continent’s 165 million-strong domestic cattle.

One significant factor keeping the two sides apart is the presence of tsetse flies. The parasite causes bovine trypanosomosis in cattle, killing as many as three million animals every year (the human strain is also responsible for causing up to 70,000 cases of ‘sleeping sickness’ annually). Since cattle herders know to avoid areas where tsetse flies are widespread, these locations often act as lion strongholds, ensuring human-wildlife conflict is kept relatively low.

Inevitably, climate change is set to intervene. Researchers at Boise State University in Idaho are predicting that the changing of temperatures across East Africa means the tsetse fly range will likely expand by an additional 1,900,000 sq km by 2050 – slightly larger than the size of Alaska – driving out people and livestock in the process.

Crucially, the fly range is estimated to shrink in other areas by between 520,000 sq km and 714,000 sq km, inviting herders into current lion habitats. Consequentially, between 3,400 and 5,900 lions would find themselves in conflict with humans and their desire to graze cattle, according to models created by the research team.

‘Lion-cattle conflict is one of the main drivers of the rapid decline in lion numbers in Africa,’ says Neil Carter, a human-environment systems researcher at Boise State. ‘As such, we would expect that lions sharing more landscapes with people and their cattle would be detrimental to both. Having said that, there are ways to mitigate the negative interactions between lions and cattle.’

Such mitigations include promoting the use of protective reinforced ‘bomas’ (enclosures) for cattle being grazed in lion areas, designing effective wildlife corridors to ensure lion mobility between fractured habitats, and embracing rangeland management schemes where the value of lions for non-invasive industries such as tourism is made clear to all relevant actors, including local cattle herders.

This was published in the May 2018 edition of Geographical magazine

geo line break v3

Free eBooks - Geographical Newsletter

Get the best of Geographical delivered straight to your inbox by signing up to our weekly newsletter and get a free collection of eBooks!

geo line break v3

Related items

NEVER MISS A STORY - Follow Geographical on Social

Want to stay up to date with breaking Geographical stories? Join the thousands following us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and stay informed about the world.

More articles in NATURE...

Oceans

Field observations of corals around the world reveal that not…

Climate

The Great Plains of the USA are once again getting…

Climate

Attempts to build a digital twin of the Earth could…

Oceans

Food systems will need to change as the global population…

Wildlife

Zoos do a lot more than welcome excited visitors; closures…

Oceans

 BluHope is back with a day of webinars to promote…

Wildlife

WildEast, a grassroots community initiative, is encouraging volunteers to commit…

Wildlife

With growing global awareness of the risks of hunting and…

Climate

Researchers have identified the extent of microplastic contamination throughout the…

Wildlife

The Thames Estuary has long been home to heavy industry,…

Wildlife

Whydahs and indigobirds, collectively known as the vidua finches, show…

Oceans

Whales sequester an enormous amount of carbon, making their protection…

Geophoto

In his ongoing photographic project, Carpathia, Nicholas J R White…

Energy

Artificial intelligence offers high potential solutions to the climate crisis,…

Wildlife

Rewilding projects across Europe are working to expand populations of…

Wildlife

Scientists are racing to prevent a deadly disease that kills…

Wildlife

Birds are a much-loved component of the natural world, serenading…

Tectonics

The unprecedented pause in human activity that took place during…