LIONS IN ETHIOPIA

Panthera leo

Ethiopia is believed to contain 7 lion populations, the largest being shared with South Sudan.  Estimates* of population and habitat size are:

 

Boma-Gambella - 500 lions in 106,941km2

South Omo - 200 lions in 22,483km2

Nechisar - 10 lions in 1,030km2

Bale - 50 lions in 2,373km2

Welmel-Genale - 100 lions in 6,649km2

Awash - 50 lions in 25,302km2

Ogaden - 100 lions in 35,405km2

 

 

The African lion is a national symbol of Ethiopia, and an important element of national identity. This is exemplified by the presence of lion statues in major towns, in the representation of a lion in the old national flag and the use of a lion logo by several companies. Therefore, extinction of the lion in Ethiopia, nationally or locally, would not only be an important ecological loss but would also be a socio-cultural impoverishment.

 

Ethiopia is rich in biodiversity with a high level of endemism.  The challenges facing the conservation of Ethiopian wildlife today are becoming increasingly formidable. Since the level of agricultural productivity has remained low, increase in food production has largely depended on increase in cultivated and grazing land. Usually, these expansions are at the expense of wildlife resources and habitats, and as a result, most of the potential habitats for wildlife are being isolated and fragmented.

 

Within lion range in Ethiopia, the lion is probably the principal predator of domestic livestock, along with hyena, which causes conflict with stockbreeders. Livestock loss and a poor management capacity for human-lion conflict, has lead to declines in lion populations. There is no single full and immediate solution to this problem, but the implementation of a combined approach, using several management measures and mitigation techniques could help to reduce conflicts and depredation to a tolerable level.

 

Lions also present a risk to human life. Human death and injury are threats that people within lion ranges are presented with every day. Fatal lion attacks on people are actually very rare, but when it occurs, it is not tolerable. 

 

Unmanaged human population growth leads to lion habitat fragmentation because as population pressure increases there is a growing need for broader settlement and agricultural lands. This in turn leads to human-lion conflict, which is always initiated by the settlement of human beings near lion habitat. This settlement introduces domestic animals, which are potential prey animals, to lions. Unplanned agriculture, and other livelihood activities, tend to destroy wild habitats; further exacerbating the status of lions by decreasing the number of wild animals, (including lions and their prey species). As human-lion contact increases, so does human-lion conflict, resulting in reductions in lion numbers (through indiscriminate killing; poisoning, trapping and shooting). 

 

Lion-human conflict is a major issue in lion conservation. Lions prey on livestock, mainly when there is high levels of wild prey depletion, and in retaliation, people kill them. There will always be some level of conflict at the lion-human interface as long as lions prey on livestock. Therefore, in order to mitigate this problem, governments need to establish effective Problem Animal Control units, that can be deployed when preventive measures have failed. In addition, tolerance can be encouraged in some cases. Providing training to PA staff as to how to deal with certain problems of human-lion conflict will be a key component of this strategy. 

 

In the regional lion conservation strategy (IUCN, 2006), chapters on trade primarily focus on the aspect of trophy hunting. This focus also concerns Ethiopia, but in addition to that the label of trade in the national context should also refer to issues with trade in live cubs and in lion parts for medicinal purposes. Such trade is known to serve markets in the East and Middle East, but no data are available on the extent and impact.  The persistence of Illegal trade within Ethiopia is largely due to ineffective law enforcement, which results from a lack of knowledge, weak capacity and low motivation within law enforcement agencies. There is a need for capacity building among enforcement agencies and increased resources for wildlife law enforcement efforts. 

 

The long-term vision of the strategy is: “To ensure a sustainable environment for the mutual benefit of lion populations and people in perpetuity in Ethiopia.”  This vision represents a broad image that carries an idealistic situation in the long-term. This is operationalised in the medium term by the following goal: “To secure, and where possible restore, sustainable lion populations throughout their present and potential range in Ethiopia, recognizing their potential to provide substantial social, cultural, ecological and economic benefits.” 

 

* Riggio J, Jacobson A, Dollar L, Bauer H, Becker M, Dickman A, Funston P, Groom R, Henschel P, de Iongh H, Lichtenfeld L, Pimm S (2012) The size of savannah Africa: a lion's (Panthera leo) view.  Biodiversity Conservation Dec 12 DOI 10.1007/s10531-012-0381-4