One of Africa’s most recognised animals and yet one of the most threatened, the African lion population has almost halved in the last three decades and continues to decline. In 1980 there were an estimated 75,000 lions, while today there are approximately 35,000 free ranging lions. They went extinct in 26 countries. East Africa represents a crucial region for the lions’ persistence as it currently holds around 57% of Africa’s remaining lions. Established by the Kenya Wildlife Trust, the main aim of the Mara Lion Project is to sustainably conserve lions throughout the Greater Mara Ecosystem.
Determine the current status of lions in the Mara
Identify the major threats that could be causing declines in the current lion population
Mitigate threats against lions wherever possible
The data will be collected using an array of data collection techniques including direct behavioural observation, faecal analysis, genetic analysis, disease screening, radio telemetry, historic data and interviews with herders. This will be combined with significant community involvement.
The initial study will build the foundation for a long-term research project of national and international caliber and its importance cannot be underestimated - the Greater Mara Ecosystem may be seen as a microcosm for the rest of Africa, and perhaps a glimpse of its future: with high densities of people, livestock and lions, solutions found here will certainly be applicable to other ecosystems.
Dr. Nic Elliot, of Oxford University’s Wildlife Research Unit (WildCRU), was born and raised in Zimbabwe. In 2007 he conducted an MSc in Wildlife Management at the University of Reading. His thesis focused on differing survey methods for large carnivores and was carried out under Hwange Lion Research in Zimbabwe. Upon completion of the MSc he returned to Hwange National Park as a volunteer field assistant on the same project and developed ideas for a DPhil which started in 2009. In October 2013 Nic moved to Kenya to head up the newly formed Mara Lion Project. This project was initiated by the Kenya Wildlife Trust due to growing concerns that the iconic Masai Mara lion population was in decline. Despite being one of the best known ecosystems, and indeed lion populations, on earth, there has been no long-term, in-depth research on the lion population. Nic is hoping to apply his skills in modelling movement, connectivity and dispersal to investigate movement within the Greater Mara Ecosystem in an effort to understand when and why lions leave the wildlife areas.