The Free Roaming Lions of the Limpopo

The Greater Limpopo-Shashe region is one that is very close to the hearts of our entire team. Rox has lived there since 2004 and it is also where Antje and Martin met; over time we have experienced the magic, the mystery and the wonder that is the Greater Limpopo-Shashe region; however we have also experienced the heartbreak conservation stories that dominate the region.

Happy Lion Cubs in the Northern Tuli Game Reserve

Photo Credit : Girl in the Wilderness

As three passionate and avid conservationists, we dread the phone calls that come in, “A pride of lions have been poisoned”, “Cheetah killed on the Pontdrift road”, “Lions are bashing themselves against fences to get away from cars”

It is tragic that an area that holds so much mystery and wonder can also experience such great tragedy. Sadly Greater Mapungubwe Transfrontier Conservation Area (GMTFCA) is one that has seldom been explored by locals, and deemed too far of the main tourist track for internationals. The Mingati Wildlife Conservation experience aims to not only get local South Africans actively involved in wildlife conservation, we hope to ignite the same love and passion in others for the region that we all have.

The Mapungubwe National Park forms an integral part of the GMTFCA which spans into the Northern Tuli Block in Botswana and the Tuli Wilderness area in Zimbabwe. By comparison, The Kruger National Park spans over 2 000 000 million hectares with approximately 950 000 visitors per annum (80% Local Visitors), while Mapungubwe National Park sees roughly 25 000 visitors per year and covers an area of only 28 000 hectares. It truly is one of South Africa’s best kept secrets.

This area is rich with diverse wildlife, including Lion, Leopard, Wild Dog, Cheetah, Elephants, White Rhino, Brown Hyena, Spotted Hyena, Aardvark and Pangolin across varied landscapes ranging from Mopane Bushveld to Riparian Forests along the rivers. The horizon is dotted with massive Baobab trees, Nyala Berries, Ana Trees, Leadwoods and Gnarled Fig Trees along the rocky outcrops. It is a nature lovers dream and should be treated as such when it comes to the conservation of the animals that call this piece of paradise home.

Currently one of the largest threats to the region is the population decline of the free roaming lions, who discreetly make their way through farmlands, across borders and through protected areas. The Lion numbers are vulnerable and among the causes of decline, the most important are indiscriminate killing in defence of human life and livestock, habitat loss and prey base depletion.

The second largest threat in the region is the canned lion hunting trade that takes place legally. While attention is focused on Lion Hunting reforms to ensure sustainability, the leading causes of population decline are more difficult to address and likely to continue. The Mingati Wildlife Foundation does not support the hunting of Lions for profit and we hope that through targeted ethical conservation experiences we would be able to minimize the profitability of these canned lion hunting farms in the region, through the increase of domestic and international tourism to sustain the farms, lodges and communities.

The IUCN estimates global Lion populations at around 23 000 – 39 000 mature individuals, however the numbers decline drastically as soon as you remove the number of lions that are in canned and legal hunting facilities.

Over the years disturbing images have surfaced of lions kept in poor living conditions and in poor body condition. It is not all doom and gloom however, in 2015 the Professional Hunters Association of South Africa a majority vote was taken to distance the association from canned lion hunting until the South African Predator’s Association could prove the conservation value of this practice to both PHASA and the IUCN, and PHASA members are now prohibited from taking part in canned lion hunts, however captive-bred lion hunting is still permitted.

Lions on a hunting farm outside Alldays

Photo Credit : SPCA Louis Trichardt

The Carnivore Conservation project is therefore multi-faceted. Our first priority is to protect the free-roaming lions that are transboundary through Botswana, South Africa and Zimbabwe by placing Satellite and GPS collars on the transient predators, this allows us to have real time monitoring of their whereabouts and to set up “Geo-Fencing”. Geo Fencing allows us to utilize modern technology to track the lions and get alerts when they are moving into an area where there is the risk of conflict with farmers and local communities. The collared lions also provide local and international researchers with metrics and datasets to assist with vital research into the population dynamics of the prides in the region.

The economic impact of stock raiding is significant and can cripple a local farmer or even the entire community, which is why it is vital to not only collar transient lions but to work with local farmers and communities to place livestock guardian dogs. These dogs deter large predators from depleting livestock and are essential in the mitigation of Human-Wildlife Conflict.

Each seat on the Mingati Wildlife Conservation Experience, contributes directly to the raising of much needed funds for the Carnivore Conservation project, and the hopes are that with enough funds raised we can collar two different transient male lions and place at least two livestock guardian dogs in the vicinity of where these males are attempting to set up their territories.

You can see more about the Southern African Conservation experience here :

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