Collaborating with KopeLion

Purpose

Lincoln Park Zoo is a longtime partner of the KopeLion Project based in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area in northern Tanzania.  Zoo conservationists support KopeLion with scientific and technical expertise to strengthen their on-the-ground protection of lions in this important ecosystem.

About

KopeLion strives to foster human-lion coexistence in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area in northern Tanzania. The area is part of the Greater Serengeti Ecosystem, which has the highest density of lions in Africa and is therefore critical for lion conservation. This is especially important as lions are facing severe declines across most of their range, with a likely estimate of fewer than 20,000 lions remaining across Africa.

Threats

The Ngorongoro Conservation Area is a multiple land use area where people live alongside protected wildlife. The residents of this area are Maasai pastoralists that rely on livestock for their livelihoods. Living with lions as a livestock herder incurs many risks, and losing livestock to lion predation poses a significant burden to these families. This human-lion conflict has historically resulted in retaliatory killing of lions, resulting in lions disappearing from large areas of the area. Additionally, rapid human population growth has also affected lion prey and habitat in the area. Collectively, these threats have reduced lion numbers in the area and severed the historical movement of lions throughout the Greater Serengeti Ecosystem.

Conservation Efforts

The mission of the KopeLion Project is to support co-existence of lions and people in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area and beyond. Engaging communities is at the heart of the program, which works to create solutions that protects lions, increases tolerance, and reduces conflict. Zoo conservationists support KopeLion with scientific and technical expertise to strengthen their on-the-ground protection of lions in the ecosystem.

Monitoring the Lion Population
The lion population in the Ngorongoro Crater has been monitored since the early 1960s, making this one of the best-known lion populations in Africa. KopeLion continues to monitor the population of individually recognized lions to augment its long-term database, which provides vital information on the population dynamics of lions across the area.

Scientists in the zoo’s Alexander Center for Applied Population Biology are working with KopeLion to help modernize data collection and storage of this important dataset using PopLink , a software package designed by the zoo. They will then collaborate with KopeLion conservationists to analyze the demographic patterns of the area’s population to better understand the population’s health and long-term viability.

KopeLion also monitors lion movement patterns in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area using GPS radio collars. Zoo scientists are helping to map the distribution of settlements in the area to identify areas that might act as barriers to lion movement.

Mitigating Conflict
KopeLion employs local Maasai villagers as Ilchokuti, or lion custodians, who work with their communities to help resolve human-lion conflict and increase local tolerance toward lions. They continuously monitor lion movement within their community area, allowing them to alert herders to the presence of lions so they can avoid them. The Ilchokuti also help the communities look for lost livestock, provide veterinary care for injured livestock, reinforce traditional livestock enclosures, and, in the event of livestock being killed by lions, work with the community to prevent the retaliatory killing of lions. Zoo scientists are collaborating with KopeLion to update their Ilchokuti data collection to a digital platform.

Increasing Tolerance
A key long-term goal of KopeLion is to promote tolerance of lions. The project recently established a conservation incentive payment within the area that provides financial rewards to communities that achieve lion conservation goals, such as increased lion presence on their land and stopping all killings of lions. The payment reverses the traditional model of paying compensation for livestock losses, which often does little to change negative attitudes toward carnivores; instead, it engages local people by sharing the benefits of supporting lions on their land. Zoo scientists helped design the payment and created a household survey that measures community member’s beliefs and attitudes toward lions, coexistence, and the overall project as one measure of the project’s impact.

Restoring Connectivity
Reestablishing the historical movement of lions between the Serengeti National Park and the Ngorongoro Conservation Area will support the long-term lion population health and genetic viability of the Ngorongoro Crater lions. Working with communities through the above initiatives, KopeLion hopes to create a ‘corridor of tolerance’ toward lions that will allow them to move freely between the two areas.

Engaging with the Community
Kopelion hosts engagement sessions with local communities to raise awareness and share information on the lions of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area. This provides a forum for communities to provide feedback and participate in decision making on lion conservation. Their holistic approach of working directly with residents will hopefully lead to long-term human-lion coexistence in this important ecosystem.

Staff

Charles Foley, Ph.D.
Senior Conservation Scientist
Tanzania Conservation Research Program
Lara Foley, M.S.
Research Coordinator
Tanzania Conservation Research Program
Lisa Faust, Ph.D.
Senior Director of Population Ecology
Conservation & Science
Judy Che-Castaldo, Ph.D.
Research Scientist
Alexander Center for Applied Population Biology

Collaborators

Ingela Jansson
Director
KopeLion

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