SAFARI WITH A CONSCIENCE & SAVE AFRICA’S LIONS
By ERIN MICHELSON
In the space of the last 20-30 years, Africa’s lion population has dwindled, and the while these big cats are on the vulnerable as opposed to endangered list, recent figures show an estimated 80-90% decline in numbers.
The Lion Encounter offered by Acacia Africa was one of the first genuine programmes to look at stemming their demise, the main objective to reintroduce the offspring of captive-bred lions back into the wilderness.
Lion walks are one way of playing an active part in the project. More than just a simple safari on the savannah, these walks are helping the lions orient themselves to their natural environment – in this case, the Mosi-Oa-Tunya National Park. An essential part of the programme, out in the bush they can learn to play, explore and get a feel for their final destination – the wilds of Africa. And, as a guided excursion, this is also a great opportunity to gain some insight into the lion kingdom and their behaviour, while at the same time capturing some amazing photographic opportunities.
Here is a video of my lion encounter.
Along their journey the lions may well encounter game and in these situations they can start to put their stalking and hunting skills into practice. Of course, there are no guarantees, but there is no doubting the added excitement. For adventurers it epitomizes the raw energy of untamed Africa and for the project it’s a major plus as when the lions’ instincts start to develop more fully the staff are one step closer to meeting their release goals. On other occasions it is sometimes possible to get up close to the cubs, the lions being used to human interaction from birth, but it is important to note that the walks are mostly concerned with observation of these wild animals, and throughout the activity the travellers will be following the big cats lead.
A successful project in the making, in 2011 Lion Encounter and Alert released a pride of lions, all of which are now thriving in the Dambwa Game Reserve. Home to wildebeest, zebra and impala, the lions, who are closely monitored, wear radio collars, and travellers who partake in the organisation’s “Lion Drives,” can view the results for themselves, with the research team conducting data collection along the way.
The second stage of the project; the pride of lions and lionesses are bonding well and hunting successfully, and while they have no human contact, they are sometimes provided with scavenger feeds to promote their more natural instincts.
The Victoria Fall based Lion Encounter has also signed a public-private agreement with the Zimbabwe Parks & Wildlife Management Authority (ZPWMA) to develop volunteer programmes throughout the National Park system and generate much needed funding. Committed to conservation, the Livingstone arm of the organisation, in partnership with Greenpop, planted over 800 trees in the Dambwa Forest when Greenpop launched Trees for Zambia in 2012.
Lion walks are available on many of Acacia Africa’s overland expeditions and small group safaris. The Lion Encounter operates in both Zambia and Zimbabwe. Acacia Africa’s 7-day Africa Insight overland tour covers Livingstone, the lion walks are offered as an optional activity. From £375pp (no single supplement) + local payment from £172pp including accommodation, transport, most meals and services of a local guide/driver. Acacia Africa: 020 7706 4700; email@example.com; www.acacia-africa.com. ATOL No. 6499 and ABTA No. W4093 PROTECTED.
About the Author
Erin Michelson is Editor of Go Erin Go and author of ‘Adventure Philanthropy’.