A new study published this month in the journal Ecology Letters has suggested that fencing lions in to keep them safe from humans may be the best alternative to dealing with their rapid decline, but not everyone agrees.
One thing is certain: Africa’s lions are quickly disappearing. Some estimate their population has fallen by 80 percent in the past 50 years, leaving only 20,000 to 30,000 left in the wild on 25 percent of their natural habitat, which may now require drastic measures, such as fencing them in, to keep them from disappearing entirely.
The study was led by the University of Minnesota’s Professor Craig Packer and co-authored by a large team of lion biologists who believe that nearly half of the unfenced populations may decline to near extinction over the next 20-40 years and concluded that fenced reserves have a higher density and faster growth than populations on open land after consulting with conservation managers in 11 African countries.
“More and more people live in fairly rural areas where there is wildlife, but those people rely on livestock, so they’re really coming into conflict often with lions,” co-author Dr. Luke Hunter of Panthera, a conservation organization based in the U.S. told LiveScience. “They just see them as a really dangerous enemy.”
ScienceNOW reports that:
Lions are doing relatively well in a few unfenced parks, such as Nairobi National Park in Kenya, but these places must spend much more money. Antipoaching patrols and other management costs in unfenced parks can run more than $2000 per square kilometer annually while fostering only half the number of possible lions. In contrast, a fenced reserve can attain 80% of its maximum population density at a quarter of the cost. The difference could be critical for the future of lions; the study found that almost half of unfenced lion populations may sink to less than 10% of their potential size over the next 2 to 4 decades.
As far as exact costs go, the study showed that the initial cost of building fences is high, about $3000 per kilometer, in the long run it will cost $500 per square kilometer to maintain every year – compared to the $2000 per square kilometer to maintain fewer lions in unfenced areas.
Co-author Professor Stephen Garnett, an expert in conservation management at Charles Darwin University believes the idea of fencing large reserves runs counter to current conservation practices that encourage coexistence through conflict management and compensation programs, according to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. However, he notes that expanding human populations are putting pressure on wildlife that could mean the developing entirely new tactics when it comes to saving species.
Concerns were also raised about how fences will affect and disrupt migrating species, but it is still being argued as the best option for saving lions.
“No one wants to resort to putting any more fences around Africa’s marvellous wild areas, but without massive and immediate increases in the commitment to lion conservation, we may have little choice,” said Hunter.
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