Lion Conservation with ALERT

by Melissa on October 11, 2012 · 29 comments

When I made the decision to go to Africa I knew that I wanted to encounter lions in some way shape or form.  Little did I know, I was going to be involved with some incredible and much-needed lion conservation efforts.  I knew that chances were pretty high that I would be able to see this majestic beast in Etosha National Park or Chobe National Park, as a part of my Nomad Adventure Tours overland tour from Cape Town to Victoria Falls.  However, when I had to make the executive decision to alter my original travel plans, hoping to spend really cheap holidays somewhere and skip out on South East Asia, I knew that I would use the money I would have in SE Asia in a more socially responsible way.  Ever since reading about yTravelblog’s Caz and Craig’s lion encounter experience in Zimbabwe, I wanted to have my own opportunity to get up close and personal with the king of the jungle.  I did a bit of research and stumbled upon the Lion Encounter website – knowing that I was going to be ending my tour in Victoria Falls, I figured it would be a cool excursion to do.

laili
This was about the time that I realized that they had a volunteer program so I inquired to find out more.  Lesley from African Impact got back to me back right away.  I read through the website and all the information packages, did my research, and then signed up for my first stint as a voluntourist.  It wasn’t until I arrived at Antelope Park (a 3000 acre private game park) in Gweru, Zimbabwe that I learned all about the lion conservation efforts being put forth by ALERT – African Lion and Environmental Research Trust.

ALERT is a non-profit organization, which was founded in 2005 by Andrew Connolly and it’s dedicated to the facilitation and promotion of sound conservation and management plans of the African lion.  ALERT was started to support the four-stage program that was initiated in 1999 at Antelope Park which attempts to have captive bred lions be introduced into the wild.

Before I go into details of the four stages, you may be wondering WHY lion conservation is even needed in the first place.  Unbeknownst to many people, the lion population has dropped nearly 80-90% in the past 30years.  For an apex predator species and the animal synonymous with Africa- this is a devastating statistic.  Heck it’s a devastating statistic for any species.  Being that the lion is pretty much the first animal that anyone thinks of when they think of Africa and it is the one animal that more than 90% of people traveling to Africa wish to see – the importance of the lion not only in the grand scheme of the environment, but to the tourism sector and economy of many African nations is beyond vital.  The lion’s extinction could cripple the African economy.

male and female lions

How did the lion population drop so drastically in the past 30 years?  With increased trophy hunting tourism and poaching, as well as communities encroaching on the lion’s natural habitat and revenge killings for lions destroying the communities’ livestock the numbers have drastically dropped.  And that’s only due to human involvement.  Another major factor also includes feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV – otherwise known as the feline version of HIV) infecting a large number of lions in the wild.

As previously mentioned, ALERT utilizes a four-stage program in their attempt at lion conservation, and from what I could see through my involvement, it seems like a method that with continued and increased financial support and the hard work on behalf of researchers, environmentalists, conservationists, locals and volunteers alike, it could potentially save the species from complete decimation. This incredible work is being carried out by the likes of Antelope Park, where I had the pleasure of getting to become involved with lion conservation efforts.

THE FOUR STAGES ARE AS FOLLOWS:


Stage 1
– Lion cubs are born into captivity and are removed from their mother after 3 weeks.  At 3 weeks, they have been able to acquire the passive immunity from their mother from nursing but are still partially blind.  When the cubs first open their eyes, they see humans and believe them to be part of their pride.  After being raised by humans until 3 months of age, the cubs are introduced to volunteers and guests at places like Antelope Park.  The guests and volunteers are accompanied by lion handlers and take the cubs into the bush in the morning and evening for a couple of hours to familiarize the cubs with their natural environment and to allow them to encounter prey species.  From 3 months until 18 months, the cubs continue these walks to develop their natural hunting instincts.  Around 18 months of age, the cubs are retired from their lion walks and brought out during the night or in the early hours of the morning, which is when they typically hunt in the wild.  The lions are growing and so they are accompanied by a truck filled with volunteers and guests as they prowl the bush looking for prey.  At about 2 years of age, these lions are combined into a pride.  This pride is constructed based on characteristics and behaviours observed during their time in the bush and compatible lions are put together

Stage 2– The pride is moved to a 500 acre game reserve that is stocked with prey species but contains no other predators such as hyenas.  The lions are left to their own devices and their behaviour is observed without interaction from humans.  The lions become self-sustaining, hunting and killing when needed, and breeding.  These lion cubs, which are born into Stage 2, are taught by their captive bred parents how to hunt and are considered wild, as they have not had any human contact.

stage 2 lion cub
Stage 3
– The pride from Stage 2 is moved to Stage 3 which is a 10 000 acre game reserve, complete with other predators so that the lions can learn to scavenge and protect not only their young, but also their kills from other scavengers.  Again, the lion cubs born into this stage are wild and have no human contact and are taught how to hunt and survive by their parents and the other members of the pride.

Stage 4– The cubs born into Stage 2 and 3 are moved onto protected land, which is complete with all predators and prey found in the wild.  The cubs live on their own and organizations such as ALERT work with local communities to educate them on the importance of the lion to the ecosystem and economy of Africa, as well as reasons for the lion’s population decline.

At the time of my volunteer stint at Antelope Park, they had nearly 100 lions in Stage 1 (including four cubs ranging in age from 13months to 18months – Penya, Paza, Laili and Lewa- who were used for the lion walks).  They had a Stage 2 site set up just beyond the park limits, in a fenced-off area called Ngamo.  Within Ngamo was the first pride consisting of 6 lionesses, 1 male lion, and 5 cubs who have all been born in the semi-wild 500 hectare enclosure.  These lions are the future of lion conservation.  Just after I left the park, representatives from the African country ofBurundi had made a visit to the park to discuss partnering with ALERT to help get a Stage 3 site – something ALERT had not yet had the funding for since the fencing along would cost a small fortune.  With the partnership agreement signed, things are looking up for the future of lion conservation and hopefully within the next decade we can start seeing the reintroduction of lions into the wild.  It’s a big goal – but hey, we can all dream right?

lion cubs

If you would like more information about ALERT, the lion conservation efforts, or if you would like to make a donation or get involved – go to the website http://lionalert.org.

If you’d like to see more gorgeous lion photos from Antelope Park – go to The Mellyboo Project’s Facebook Page – be sure to give me a ‘like’!

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{ 26 comments… read them below or add one }

Anne October 12, 2012 at 2:51 pm

Very informative post.
Beautiful creatures and most breath taking pictures.

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Melissa October 17, 2012 at 9:25 am

They’re incredible. I’m so happy that I had the opportunity to work with them and develop my passion. I can’t wait to go back. My heart aches every day that I’m away from them.

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Leanna - your sis October 13, 2012 at 6:49 am

Hey Mel, just catching up on reading all your blogs. I must say your whole thing is well put together. Your blogs are always so informative sometimes fun and interesting. I’m so glad your enjoying your time across the world and traveling. Most of remain safe. I loved this entry didn’t really realize how extinct the lions are getting and it was such an awesome experience. I would I could do somethig alog the lines of helping out. Keep it up and congrats on your very successful blog.i love you Mel miss you a lot but I’m happy your happy.

Xoxo
Your sis

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Leanna - your sis October 13, 2012 at 6:50 am

Sorry iPhone spelling is horrible :(

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Melissa October 17, 2012 at 9:26 am

Thanks for taking the time to read my stuff – I know it wasn’t exactly at the top of your to do list. I’m not sure if I should be offended by you saying “sometimes fun and interesting” I’m sure you didn’t mean it the way you wrote it. See you at Christmas.
xoxo

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The World Wanderer October 15, 2012 at 6:02 am

Loved reading about this, as I knew a little bit after my walk with the lions. What a great experience!
The World Wanderer recently posted..Camping in Africa.My Profile

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Melissa October 17, 2012 at 9:30 am

Thanks Erin – it was incredible – as you know. I think the main thing is to get the information out there – because people simply do not know the facts. They assume there are tons and tons of lions because the lion is synonymous with Africa. It’s important to educate people that this is not the case and that if the rates of decline keep going at the pace it’s going at, in less than 10 years there wont be ANY lions left in the wild – and that is absolutely terrifying.

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Erik October 15, 2012 at 10:41 am

Wow, what a cool experience.

And it is a big goal, but all those worth shooting for are!
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Melissa October 17, 2012 at 9:32 am

Definitely worth shooting for. And that was a very big reason why I wanted to write this post – people just don’t seem to know about the plight of the lion. So the first step is educating people and letting them know that it’s NOT okay to go out there and shoot an innocent animal all in the name of fun and to have their picture taken standing on top of a dead lion (or rhino, or leopard or whatever else). It’s just not right.

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Kieu October 15, 2012 at 12:06 pm

What a great experience.. I never thought to be a voluntourist.. I’d love to research more about this for when I visit Africa in the near future.
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Melissa October 17, 2012 at 9:34 am

When are you traveling to Africa and where are you going? It was incredible – can’t wait to share more of my experience on here. I’m so jealous – i want to go back so badly! I don’t think I can wait 9months!

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Scarlett October 16, 2012 at 11:52 pm

Those figures are so scary – it’s good to know there are things put in place to help them from diminishing further. I would love to volunteer. Great post xx
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Melissa October 17, 2012 at 9:39 am

Thanks hun! This post meant a lot to me and is really close to my heart. Those statistics are horrifying. And like I said, the lion is an apex predator (top of the food chain) – if the lion is to become extinct, what the hell does that mean for the rest of the ecosystem below it? It’s got so many negative ramifications. Yet people just don’t seem to give a shit and still book their trophy hunting tours and their sole purpose is to kill a lion (or rhino, or leopard or whatnot) and its absolutely disgusting and terrifying that there is so much ignorance in the world. The biggest step in helping save the species is awareness and education – so if I could do my part and educate just a few people on the plight of the lion, and they share that information with a few other people, before long lots of people will know – and hopefully be motivated to help out however they can – be it through donations or volunteering or simply continuing to spread the world.

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The Hook October 17, 2012 at 3:35 am

Cool shots and post!
You’re living quite the life, young lady.

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Melissa October 17, 2012 at 9:43 am

Thanks! Like I state on my “What is the Mellyboo Project” page – I simply want to live a life that people WANT to read about when I’m gone. I want my life to be nothing short of extraordinary.

Screw sitting in a cubicle and doing the 9-5… i’ve got one shot at this thing called life, gonna live it right! :)

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Peter October 17, 2012 at 2:22 pm

Fantastic post and images – very envious of your experience and goo don you for making a difference with your travelling adventures! Really would like to work with big cats and conservation one day.
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Melissa October 21, 2012 at 12:30 pm

Thanks – it was such an incredible experience. Keep following along for more posts about my time at Antelope Park :)

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Suzy October 21, 2012 at 2:13 am

I had no idea the lion population had dropped so much in the last 30 years. That is certainly a sobering statistic. Love the photos you have captured of the big cats!
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Melissa October 21, 2012 at 12:29 pm

Frightening stats, eh? Definitely a cause that deserves some awareness. Thanks for stumbling this post with your readers – much appreciated! :)

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Ed Rex October 22, 2012 at 10:38 pm

Might just go work there when I do go there some point. :)
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Melissa October 22, 2012 at 11:25 pm

you definitely should – it’s an experience of a lifetime!

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Ram November 1, 2012 at 1:41 am

Hi melissa..that was a lovely post..
thinking of doing a similar volunteering program..and travel a bit more to kenya and tanzania… hv spent time with elephants but not so much with lions/cubs… any recommendations?
thnx n rgrds,
Ram

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Melissa November 6, 2012 at 10:08 am

I’m not too familiar with any programs in Kenya or Tanzania – but if you go to the African Impact website – http://africanimpact.com if they don’t have anything listed, if you email them they may be able to put you in touch with a program in East Africa. I would highly highly highly recommend Antelope Park in Zimbabwe though. It was beyond incredible! Life changing even.

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Ram November 6, 2012 at 3:05 pm

Thnx!
I did mail them! and I think I will probably go to Antelope Park! :-) .. hearing a lot of good stuff about it. thnx a lot!

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Melissa November 6, 2012 at 3:09 pm

Oh YAY!!! I’m so glad to hear :) That is fantastic news. You definitely wont regret it. I loved every second of being there, and plan on returning next year to do an internship for a few months! Please keep in touch in you do go – i would love to hear about your experience.

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Ram November 6, 2012 at 3:22 pm

ha ha! will definitely keep u posted… mostly looking at Feb or June..[probably combine a 2 week volunteering with a 6 week of overlanding east/south africa]. Hv done only a bit of south africa..but ya, takes a while to plan with an indian passport! :-). Good to hear about ur interning! ping u soon! tc!

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