When lions prey on livestock it causes conflict with local communities, commonly known as human-lion conflict (or HLC). Conflict often leads to retaliatory killing of lions and is one of the greatest threats to wild lions today. ELP is researching conflict risk factors to help understand where and why conflict is happening.
Renewed commitment to establishing protected areas and community conservancies has successfully restored wildlife in many places across southern Africa. Lions are returning to the landscape and expanding their territory, but this means encountering greater risk in landscapes where wildlife and communities overlap.
Every year, lions are also killed from conflict across the Etosha landscape. Understanding where conflict is happening and what risk factors are behind these events is an integral part of addressing conflict.
What causes conflict?
Human-lion conflict (HLC) is a complex, rapidly evolving issue that's difficult for law-enforcement and communities to manage, especially as human populations expand and events arise more frequently. Conflict is most common where protected areas and farmland overlap but is the result of multiple, interacting causes unique to every location.
Factors can be biological, environmental, social, political, or even economic such as differences in fencing types, farming practices, water scarcity and varying negative perception of lions across communities. The behavior of individual lions can also play a role, with some prides becoming known "problem animals" that repeatedly attack livestock.
An Ecosystem Issue
Human-lion conflict often results in lion mortalities. Commonly referred to as retaliatory killings, these conflicts occur when problem lions attack a farmer's livestock.
Pre-emptive lion killings also happen when communities feel threatened by lions being in the area. The effects of these killings are felt by more than just the lion population; when poisoned carcasses are used to bait and kill individual problem lions it can have devastating effects on other carnivore species that encounter them like hyaenas, jackals and leopards.
The best way to stop conflict related lion killings and protect wildlife is to put pre-emptive conflict mitigation measures in place. And research on specific conflict risk factors is an important part of that process.
How Research Helps
Unfortunately, preventing HLC with standardized protocols is extremely difficult when risk factors vary so widely. Conflict mitigation strategies like altering livestock herding patterns or installing different fencing to deter lions from attacking livestock may work in one community and not be effective in another. Kraaling cattle at night will not help a farmer who experiences daytime attacks.
Predicting and preventing conflict requires rigorous, individualized research on the environmental and social risk factors unique to every landscape.
As part of our research efforts, we're analyzing data from conflicts recorded around Etosha over the last 40 years. Conflict patterns identified from these data can eventually help develop more effective, specialized conflict management strategies unique to Etosha's lions and landscape.