January 16, 2006

Conservationists agree steps to save African lion

By Ed Stoddard

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - Regional governments and
conservationists have agreed on initial steps that need to be
taken to save the African lion, which has been pushed to the
brink of extinction throughout much of its range.

The strategies were worked out at a workshop on lions in
east and southern Africa which wrapped up at the weekend.

"...the reduction in the lion's wild prey base, human-lion
conflicts and habitat degradation are the major reasons for
declining lion populations and need to be addressed," the World
Conservation Union, one of the workshop's organizers, said in a
statement on Monday.

Government officials, local community representatives, lion
biologists and safari hunters attended the meeting.

"Regulated trophy hunting was not considered a threat, but
rather viewed as a way to help alleviate human-lion conflict
and generate economic benefits for poor people to build their
support for lion conservation," the statement said.

Trophy hunting of lions already takes place in several
African states including South Africa, Tanzania and Zimbabwe.

But expanding these lucrative operations to other states is
bound to be opposed by animal welfare groups which view hunting
as cruel.

With its iconic status as "King of the Beasts," the hunting
of the lion is an emotive issue sure to stir controversy, even
if it does generate revenue for poor rural communities from
licensing fees and jobs created.

Other strategies agreed on at the meeting include: action
to prevent the illegal trade in lions and lion products;
developing management capacity; and creating economic
incentives for poor rural folk to live close to lions.

The lion's overall situation is dire in the face of
swelling human populations on the world's poorest continent.

"Over the past 20 years, lion numbers are suspected to have
dropped dramatically from an estimated 76,000 to a population
estimated to be between 23,000 and 39,000 today. Across Africa,
the lion has disappeared from over 80 percent of its former
range," the World Conservation Union said.

In West Africa lions number fewer than 1,500.

Conflict between humans and lions is a huge problem with
attacks on people by man-eaters on the rise in Tanzania and