In the first week of July, three lion researchers from West and Central Africa made a study trip to Botswana. Originally, these researchers were planning to participate in the meeting of the (African Lion Working Group), which took place earlier this year in Botswana. Unfortunately, it was impossible to arrange the visa in time for the meeting, and the trip was postponed to July.
It is of utmost importance that nature conservation in West and Central Africa gets extra attention. The region struggles with a number of problems, resulting in fragmentation of the natural areas and several species are already locally extinct. According to recent estimates, less than 10% of the estimated 20,000-30,000 African lions are located in West and Central Africa. And this is especially worrying since this is another subspecies than the lions in East and southern Africa. This means that the lion populations in this region are small and vulnerable, with a serious risk of extinction. Loosing the apex predator has potentially great effects on the ecosystem. But it also hampers development of tourism, since rich and pristine ecosystems are more attractive to tourists. Because the situation in East and southern Africa is very different from the situation in West and Central Africa, it was decided to plan this study trip. The goal was to gather new ideas to give lion conservation in the region a new impulse.
The first part of the trip was a visit to Chobe National Park, in the north of Botswana. The Chobe river is the border with Namibia, and the area is a rich ecosystem with a high density of wildlife. For example, it is home to one of the largest elephant populations in the world. We had a meeting with Dr. Kathy Alexander and her team at CARACAL(http://www.caracal.info/CARACAL/Welcome_1.html). CARACAL is working hard to conserve wildlife and to support local communities that are directly dealing with this resource. They have a small rescue centre where they treat wounded animals, and the rescue centre is used for educational purposes for local schools. During the meeting, we discussed how Botswana organizes nature conservation and how responsibilities between ministeries are divided.
The second part of the trip consisted of a journey through Chobe National Park and Forest Reserve, Moremi Game Reserve and to the Okavango delta, the biggest inland delta in the world. We stayed at the researchers camp of the Botswana Predator Conservation Trust (http://www.bpctrust.org/). Here we had fruitful discussions with Dr. Tico McNutt, who built and runs the camp, and resident researchers showed us their work. There was also a meeting with Dr. Christiaan Winterbach, who works as a consultant to ensure effective management of wildlife.
During these discussions, it became increasingly clear how large the differences are between a country such as Botswana, and countries in West and Central Africa. Botswana succeeds to reserve an immense surface for nature, also because human population density is low. Botswana is rich in minerals and diamonds, but also has a booming tourist sector. But the trip also allowed us to identify new opportunities for nature conservation in West and Central Africa. We are now working on a paper and a proposal to further expand on these opportunities, so that nature conservation in West and Central Africa can get a new impuls.
Participants of the trip were Dr. Pricelia Tumenta (Cameroon), Dr. Saleh Adam (Cameroon), Dr. Etotepe Sogbohossou (Benin) and Dr. Laura Bertola (Leo Foundation). We received financial support from National Geographic – Big Cat Initiative (http://animals.nationalgeographic.com/animals/big-cats-initiative/).