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CML contributes to debate in Journal Nature on saving lions with dollars and fences

Reseachers of the Institute of Environmental Sciences Leiden (CML) have contributed to a debate in the Journal Nature over whether lions in Africa can only be saved with dollars and fences.

CML contributed to a recent  article in Ecology Letters intended to determine only the cost of conserving lions.  The authors found that lions can only be conserved in the future by high investments and putting fences around reserve areas, where lions persist.  Recently there was a news item in the Journal Nature about the interpretation and consequences of the article on “dollars and fences”.

The main author Dr Craig Packer of the University of Minnesota in St Paul who studies lions at Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park,  and some of his colleagues, think lions can only be conserved by fencing all major reserve areas in Africa, were lions occur.

Other scientists, among whom Hans de Iongh of CML think this is not relevant for small lion populations in West and Central Africa, where lions have been demonstrated to be genetically different from lions in East and Southern Africa. The idea has split scientists, with those opposed to the idea arguing that fences could do more harm than good. The ensuing debate has also laid bare fundamental differences of opinion about how to preserve lions and other species, and raised concerns that a key challenge to lion conservation — lack of funds — is being ignored while scientists trade jabs about fences.

Hans de Iongh has coordinated a research programme on large carnivores in West and Central Africa over the past ten years and co-authored to articles cited in the Nature news item; Packer et al. ( 2013) in Ecology Letters and Riggio et al(2013) in Biodiversity Conservation. The news item suggests that times are grim for the king of the beasts. Roughly 35,000 African lions roam the savannahs, down from more than 100,000 half a century ago, thanks to habi­tat loss, declining numbers of prey animals and killing by humans. The number of lions left in West Africa is estimated to be  less than 600, and fencing of the remaining reserves in this region  is not an option.

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