Hwange Lion Conservation Safari – Tourism with a purpose

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Lions have undergone a catastrophic decline and are on the brink of extinction in all but the largest and best managed national parks in Africa.

Just over a century ago, there were more than 200,000 wild lions living wild in Africa. Today, there are only about 20,000; lions are extinct in 26 African countries and have vanished from over 90 percent of their historic range.
Though lions still exist in 27 African countries and one Asian country, only seven countries are known to each contain more than 1,000 lions.

The species is relentlessly threatened by the illegal bushmeat trade, habitat loss and fragmentation, unsustainable trophy hunting, and conflict with local people due to the real or perceived threat lions pose to livestock.

The Wild Eye team has always placed massive value on conservation efforts and has contributed to a number of initiatives in South Africa and, with this new and exciting initiative, we aim to take the first step towards making a significant contribution towards the only organization in the world devoted exclusively to the conservation of the world’s wild cats, Panthera.

The Hwange Lion Conservation Safari is a Wild Eye initiative run in collaboration with Panthera and will be giving 4 guests the opportunity to visit two locations in Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Park where, along with myself, Panthera’s Dr Paul Funston and The Soft Foot Alliance’s Brent Stapelkamp, we aim to gain a deeper understanding of the threats which face wild Lion populations in the region whilst simultaneously contributing directly to the conservation efforts taking place in the region.

The Hwange Lion Conservation Safari

Find out more about this conservation orientated safari hosted by Andrew Beck and Dr Paul Funston which will see guests and Wild Eye contributing more than $ 8 000 to lion conservation initiatives in and around Hwange National Park in conjunction with Panthera.

More Info

Dr Paul Funston: Panthera’s Senior Lion and Cheetah Program Director

Often in the news for the wrong reasons – Hwange, the home of Cecil the lion – remains one of Africa’s iconic wildlife destinations. For me personally after Kruger National it’s my second favourite national park in Africa, and from my perspective as Senior Director of the international large cat conservation not for profit, Panthera, it’s vital to achieving my goal. Which is to ensure the recovery of wild lion populations from 20,000 to more than 30,000 over the next 10-20 years.

I refuse to consider that further declines are inevitable, and particularly enjoy the fact that through interventions of Panthera, and other organisations such as Oxford Universitie’s Hwange Lion Project, we have stemmed the tide and started to see a measurable recovery in Hwange’s lion population (from 300 to about 500).

One of the reasons I am so attracted to Hwange is that lions there face the three main human threats simultaneously in what are some of the best game viewing, and thus lion viewing, parts of the park.

On its eastern edge. Lions in this part of Hwange fall foul of trophy hunters every year, are caught in snares set mainly to hunt their prey, and when socially disrupted by these events females with young cubs often choose areas they perceive to be safer (because they have few adult males that might kill their cubs). But these areas are close to rural communities, which inevitably leads to them killing domestic livestock in these prey depleted areas (due to bushmeat poaching). This completes a cycle that could push the population into decline.

Hwange, Marlon du Toit, Photo Safari, Travel, Wildlife, Nature, Safari

However, through working with the Zimbabwean Government’s Department of National Parks and Wildlife we have encouraged far greater control of the trophy hunting, and by working with and funding the LongShields conflict mitigation project we have found solutions that largely circumvent the typical response of killing every lion that happens to kill livestock. Furthermore, working with various tourism operators in the area Panthera has through partnership with the Hwange Conservation Wildlife Fund pioneered a model whereby resources generated from all tourists, a bed night levy, are accumulated to support projects aimed at both reducing snaring, further mitigating conflict and directing benefits from wildlife to rural people.

One of my key partners and close friends in this endeavour is Sharon Stead CEO of Khulu Bush Camp and Ivory lodges. Her concession is right at the coalface of these challenges. By spending time at Khulu Lodge guests on this one of a kind safari will get far greater exposure to these issues than is normally the case.

Together with myself and lion warriors Lovemore Sibanda, Lioma Mathe and Brent Staplekamp (of Cecil fame, and know pioneering the Soft Foot Alliance) the purpose of your safari will be realised and you will meet these people on the ground and go out into the community to see what they do.

The financial contribution from your safari will go straight into the work we are doing.

Following that, we will endeavour to show you lions in less conflicting situations further away from the park boundary, but nevertheless exposed to its effect, during which I will take you deeper into their social lives and their fascinating nuances than you might have imagined.

See you on Safari!

Brent Stapelkamp: The Soft Foot Alliance

The Soft Foot Alliance is a small community conservation trust that works to mitigate the conflict between people and wildlife on the periphery of Hwange national park. Immersed in the community that we serve we believe the insights we have “living it” will give us a better and more appropriate idea of the solutions needed to allow people and wildlife to coexist in these unfenced areas.

In each instance we come at the conflict from the people’s perspective first! These are the people whom we are asking to tolerate large dangerous animals in their midsts and so we believe that only if their needs are taken into consideration can we start to conserve the animals.

Our first project does just that and is called “Co-herd”.
Co-herd inspires cattle herders to use their livestock to regenerate the landscapes by collectively herding and planning their grazing. If cattle are pooled in huge herds, this buys time off for individuals whom we then train in skills like carpentry and welding. We uplift young men without a formal education and give them future opportunities whilst regenerating landscapes and saving lions!

Our headquarters are our home that Laurie built with her bare hands. We live off-grid with solar power, rain water harvesting, compost toilets and are a living example to our community.

The Safari Itinerary

  • Day 1: Arrival in Victoria Falls and transfer by road to Hwange National Park & Khulu Bush Camp (approx 3 hours)
    • Afternoon Game Drive and Introductory presentations by Dr Paul Funston and Andrew Beck
  • Day 2: Morning Game Drive Drive and visit with the Longshield Lion Guardians and mobile boma’s established in the area.
    • We will learn how the Lion Guardians Operate and how the mobile bomas are benefiting villagers and their crops with regards to eutrophication of the fields and in limiting human animal conflict in the region.
    • Afternoon Drive along Deadvlei followed by sundowners and an evening presentation by Brent Stapelkamp around the history of human lion conflict in the region with specific reference to Cecil & Jericho
  • Day 3: Morning Drive followed by a visit to Brent and the Soft Foot Alliance headquarters
    • During this morning visit we will get an opportunity to see the Soft Foot Alliance’s conflict mitigation strategy of up-skilling of young men to work as herders as well as their sustainable living model in practice.
    • Afternoon drive and visit to the Painted Dog Conservation headquarters where we will be educated on the de-snaring efforts and how their work is helping to reduce threats on the local lion and wild dog population.
    • Sundowners and evening presentation by Dr Paul Funston on Lion populations and the impact of Trophy Hunting
  • Day 4: Morning drive/short walk along Deadvlei before breakfast and transfer by road through Hwange national Park to Davison’s Camp (approx. 3 hours)
    • Afternoon game Drive
  • Day 5 to 7: We will enjoy morning and afternoon game drives in search of the big cats of the region with a specific focus on the lion prides that cal the eastern edge of Hwange national park home.
    • Dr Paul Funston will provide interesting commentary on the biology, behavioural ecology and interspecific species competition on a regular but informal basis. Photographing the wildlife of the region will be our primary focus on this second portion of the itinerary.
  • Day 8: Morning Game Drive, breakfast and return transfer by road from Davison’s Camp to Victoria Falls (approx. 6 hours)

The Hwange Lion Conservation Safari

Find out more about this conservation orientated safari hosted by Andrew Beck and Dr Paul Funston which will see guests and Wild Eye contributing more than $ 8 000 to lion conservation initiatives in and around Hwange National Park in conjunction with Panthera.

More Info

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About the Author

Andrew Beck

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Very few people can tell you what their passion in life is. Even fewer will be able to tell you that what they do for a living is in fact their passion. My love for the bush and conservation took me on journey which would not only allow me to explore the continent which fascinates me so much, but to share my passion for photography and conservation with others. Be sure to check out my my website and instagram account.

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