There is probably no other species whose distributional range has shrunk over historical times to the extent shown by the lion. At one time the distribution of the African Lion was throughout much of Europe, Asia and Africa. They are now extinct in Europe, and only about 190 individuals remain in north western India where their conservation status is seriously threatend. There are no longer in lions north of the Sahara, and their range in the Southern African subregion has also shrunk considerably. Lions are great wanderers, and so sometimes turn up in areas where they have been unknown for many years.
Today most interactions between humans and lions are limited to encounters in game reserves. Lions have been recorded stalking game from behind the cover of cars and buses and will settle down to rest in the shade provided by the vehicle. 'Park' lions offer visitors the opportunity to watch them for hours doing what they do best - lying around doing nothing and looking majestic. Most game reserves require that vehicles stick to the roads or tracks so should the lions wish to avoid people they can easily do so. In safari - hunting areas lions are wary of humans and will avoid contact wherever possible.
In remote areas stock-killing lions used to be fairly common, and were dealt with in a variety of ways. This has however confined the African Lions distribution to remote, uninhabited or protected areas and there is little incidence involving livestock killing.
African literature has many stories about man eating lions. Many rural areas have at some time or other harboured man eaters. The lions of Tsavo in Kenya made a name for themselves at the turn of the century by killing labourers constructing the railway between Mombasa and Nairobi, bringing construction to a complete standstill until they were dispatched.
Although not as prevalent today as in the past, man eating still occurs, largely as a result of the increase in human population and the decline of game. Lions will take people sleeping outdoors at night should they encounter them, as well as dogs, goats, pigs and other livestock. Many of the lions that have become man-eaters have been found to be old or injured, and no longer able to hunt their normal prey effectively.
Managing lion populations is a dilemma, particularly due to sub-adult lions being driven out of the pride and becoming nomadic, which sometimes takes them out of the reserve onto surrounding tribal land, where they take to killing cattle, and usually have to be destroyed. To avoid this type of situation these sub-adult lions are culled inside the reserve before they venture out. This impacts on not only the long term pride structure, but also the genetics of the lion populations.
Various alternative solutions to culling have been explored. Consequences of human interference with the natural system has significantly altered the predator - prey balance. Erecting fences around a park in order to reduce wildlife - livestock conflicts, will have major impact on the migration routes of the lions' natural prey, such as zebra, wildebeest, springbok etc. These migrations are ancient and were determined largely by rainfall and the availability of water. The loss of dry season areas of game concentration in more arid reserves is often countered by drilling boreholes inside the park, providing permanent water in areas which were normally seasonal.
Lions exploit these plentiful waterholes as additional places of ambush, and the lion population may then flourish. Culling the lions would be a simple solution: when this situation developed at Etosha National Park, another solution was tried: the closure of some of the boreholes changed migrations back toward original patterns and the ratio of predator and prey stabilised.
Research into the use of contraception has also been conducted. Synthetic hormone capsules implanted in the lioness slowly release a drug into the bloodstream, inhibiting the oestrus cycle and preventing ovulation for up to five years. Removing the hormone capsule terminates contraception. This form of control ensures that the lioness's genes are not lost to the population as they would have been if she had been shot.
The better any animals behaviour and biology is understood, the better its chances of survival will be. Numerous studies have been conducted on lion populations, with intensive capture programs, where the lions are measured, weighed, examined, marked, and then released, have been undertaken in certain areas. Radio tracking has been undertaken in other areas, and a study of lions in the Kalahari Gemsbok National Park by employing San trackers is yielding very interesting results, as virtually every little detail of the lion's daily lives can be re-created by the tracks they leave.
Best places to see the African Lion in Southern Africa:
|Kruger National Park
Kruger National Park - South Africa's biggest nature reserve is home to aproximately 2500 lions!
Pilanesberg National Park (South Africa)
Hluhluwe-Umfolozi National Park (South Africa)
Kalahari Gemsbok National Park (South Africa)
Etosha National Park (Namibia)
Chobe National Park (Botswana)
Kasunga National Park (Malawi)
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PRIVATE GAME RESERVES:
Mala Mala Game Reserve
Sabi Sabi Private Game Reserve
Phinda Resources Reserve
Timbavati Private Game Reserve
Shamwari Game Reserve
Londolozi Private Game Reserve
Singita Private Game Reserve
Ngala Private Game Reserve
Makalali Private Game Reserve
Ruimte River Lodge -- Hoedspruit Area -- from the lodge you may visit the famous White Lions of the Timbavati
OTHER RESERVES/ PLACES TO SEE LION
Okavango Delta (Botswana)
Savuti Marsh (Botswana)
Mashatu Game Reserve (Botswana)
Kaokaveld in northwestern Namibia