Creating community conservancies can enable humans and lions to coexist by engaging local people in conservation and ecotourism for their own benefit, researchers at the University of Glasgow say in a new report.

The privately protected areas could help stem the unrelenting loss of lions, whose population has been in decline across Africa, and provide a viable solution to the problem of conflict between humans and lions.

The findings by researchers from the University of Glasgow’s Institute of Biodiversity, Animal Health and Comparative Medicine, the conservation group Living With Lions and the University of Hohenheim’s Biostatistics Unit, shows that lion populations have increased substantially within Kenya’s Maasai Mara ecosystem over the past decade.

The creation of community conservancies, which distributes tourism income to local people, has had the greatest impact on lion survival, the research paper says.

The data, published last week in the Journal of Applied Ecology, demonstrate that the financial benefits of conservancy membership can help protect the lion population, and even allow it to grow, by changing the local attitudes towards wildlife.

Lions are often killed in retaliation for causing significant costs to rural people through attacks on their livestock. Until now, the benefit of conservancies for protecting large carnivores has been largely unknown.

Sara Blackburn, lead author of the paper, tracked lion prides for five years within the Maasai Mara, on the northern side of Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park, building up a database of observations using the lions’ whisker spot patterns to identity individuals over time.

“We know that lion populations are declining right across Africa, but moratoriums on trophy hunting don’t prevent local people from killing lions, and fences stifle ecosystems,” she said. “So we looked at the question ‘Are there any scenarios in which lions can live alongside people and their livestock?’”

Conservancy membership provides households with financial benefits from wildlife tourism and engenders an attitude of coexistence with wildlife, according to the researchers. The net effect is that people become more tolerant of lions because they attract tourists and bring an alternative source of income to landowners.

The study illustrates that community conservancies are a good strategy for the future protection of lion populations and provides a practical solution to the problem, especially in areas where the expense of fencing is not a realistic option.

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