Over the last years, poaching has become an increasing threat to wildlife in the Central African country of Cameroon. In Bouba Ndjida National Park, one of our research areas, we are now regularly confronted with snared and injured animals. With the help of the government and partner organisations, we were able to support two missions for the capture and treatment of these injured lions.
Leo Foundation has an ongoing lion project aimed on the conservation of the lion population in Cameroon. Lions are scattered over four protected areas and one of them is Bouba Ndjida National Park near the border with Tchad. Our current activities include a field study to gather ecological information about the population in combination with specific measures to prevent conflicts with local communities. These activities are executed by our voluntary field researchers Ms. Iris Kirsten and Ms. Elise Bakker, in collaboration with our partner organisation Garoua Wildlife College.
In 2015 and 2016 we started to observe lions injured by snares. The snares were embedded in their heads and necks and clearly very painful and life threatening if left untreated. In addition, injured lions are known to hunt for easier prey, including livestock and even people. Poachers use snares to capture and kill antelopes for food. But other animals, like lions, also get caught in them. Local sources just recently indicated that large carnivores have also attracted the specific attention of poachers for their skin and other body parts.
Poaching is thus an additional threat to the already small and regionally endangered lion population. The death of every individual is detrimental to the survival of the population. And, from a welfare perspective, we wish to help these lions from harm inflicted by people and prevent further pain and suffering. Something we could not do on our own. We reported our observations to the Cameroonian Minister of the Department of Fauna and Forest. He then asked the Leo Foundation, WildCRU, Born Free, GIZ and Garoua Wildlife College to attempt to save these animals. Collectively we prepared a mission, which we knew would be difficult due to the accessibility of the area (roads, terrain, rain season) and the wary nature of the animals involved.
On two occasions we attempted missions to capture snared lions. In May 2015 we aimed to capture three injured lions. Two individuals regularly attended call-ups: the amplified playback of distress calls from prey species. However, due to their wary behaviour sedation by darting proved very difficult. In the end, we managed to sedate a lioness, mother of three cubs. A snare had left deep wounds in her neck, which we treated with antibiotics. If she survived, her three cubs may reach adulthood and boost lion numbers. In May 2016 we attempted to capture a snared lioness. She was in the company of another lioness and two young cubs. Unfortunately, we didn’t manage to sedate her. A day later, we encountered a very ill looking male walking in circles. After sedation and examination, we concluded that his eye sight was impaired (bloody, cloudy eyes). No other visual injuries could be detected. The lion was probably poisoned, for which we had no treatment available. We gave him antibiotics and left him with some food.
We knew our attempts would be difficult and think that our missions were at least partly successful. It has given us information on the scale of poaching activities in the area and we were able to aid in the suffering of a few animals. However, our approach is no solution for the long-term. Poaching can only be properly addressed if all parties, such as government, NGO’s and local communities work together and proper enforcement measures are taken. And of course we are willing to contribute.