On the fence about fencing in lions

Fencing lions is an option that should be approached with caution.A team of scientists and conservationists recently published a paper in Ecology Letters calling for the large-scale fencing in of African lions to conserve their populations and support the needs of humans in the area. 

Could this be the solution for this critically imperiled species going forward? The authors hypothesize that the best and most cost efficient option to save the species is to fence them in.  I’m of two minds.

First, clearly, African lions are in trouble and we need to factor in as many life-saving measures as possible, and as efficiently as possible. As I’ve pointed out before,  lion populations have dropped by over 50 percent in the last three decades- as few as 32,000 remain in the wild ,-and over the past 100 years lions have  lost 75 percent of their range.

Solutions are needed before it is too late. In this manner, the paper may have a point.  The study shows that it costs one quarter of the annual management budget to attain a greater percentage of lions in fenced reserves than it does to maintain unfenced populations. 

But, on the other side, this plan is not without concern:

Fencing could compromise genetic diversity in discrete lion populations.  As a result, entire lion populations could be lost. Maybe this isn’t the most efficient means, since the only way around protecting genetic diversity, would be a costly and complicated process of periodically introducing new lions to enclosed areas. 

Additionally, large scale fencing could negatively impact surrounding ecosystems.  Migratory paths and corridors could be cut off for a variety of species thereby disrupting the delicate balance of the ecosystem, as well as threatening the existence of local wildlife. 

Large-scale fencing will also require quite a bit of upfront financial support as well as long-term funding and management. 

Finally, many range countries have policies and legislation that restrict fencing.  Without the buy-in of these countries the fencing project has no ground to stand on…literally. 

It’s therefore an option that should be approached with caution.

In the mean time, one step we can take to protect African lions is to list them as endangered under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). In 2011, the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) and a coalition of organizations filed a petition to get lions listed under the ESA.

After reviewing our petition, the U.S. government issued a favorable finding that a listing may be warranted and opened the petition for public comment. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is currently reviewing all comments before making a decision.

If lions are granted a listing, it could go a long way in garnering public attention toward the lions’ plight, as well as establishing new controls on American importation of lion trophies, and a U.S. ban on consumption and trade in lion parts. This is an effort we can all stand behind!

--JF 

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