Lion (Panthera leo)
Lion populations have been severely affected in recent decades, with an estimated 20,000 – 30,000 free-ranging lions left in Africa and ranges that continue to shrink. Overall lion numbers have declined by 43% over the past two decades and recent studies estimate that lion populations in west and central Africa will decline by 67% in the next 20 years and east African populations by 37% (Bauer et al. 2015). Lions in West Africa are listed as regionally endangered on the IUCN red list with east- and southern African populations listed as vulnerable.
Many lion (Panthera leo) populations are restricted to small reserves geographically isolated from each other. With so many small and isolated lion populations scattered across the African continent, the conservation and protection of smaller populations has thus become very important, and conserving small populations is fraught with inherent challenges. Unfortunately today even the largest of protected areas are simply not big enough to maintain viable and sustainable populations of lions. While isolated small protected areas (PA’s) fall short of preserving wide-ranging, low density species like lions, a network of small PA’s connected by corridors can in itself function as a larger body through which the viability and sustainability of lions can be maintained. During the last decade there has been a surge in interest with regards to habitat corridors.
Modern technology and sophisticated computer algorithms has paved the way forward for conservationists in this regard. There is a wide selection of connectivity and habitat modeling tools available for predicting corridors. Real conservation challenges lies in identifying and creating corridors linking PA’s. Corridors are the key to the future of conservation for lions in the 21st century. Here we implement Circuit Theory (CT) modeling in an attempt to identify lion corridors within the Greater- Mapungubwe Transfrontier Conservation Area (GM-TFCA). CT models are important for understanding landscape wide patterns of connectivity and calculating potential barriers to lion movement. By understanding the relationship between lions and their environment, this study can provide valuable information to conservation managers and landowners in an effort to identify protective corridors and thereby preserving one of the remaining lion populations found in Africa.
Mashatu Research has thus far identified 9 potential lion corridors stemming from six core territories. Within the 9 corridors, three barriers were identified - all located on the South African side of the TFCA restricting lion movement. This project is a first step in identifying corridors for lions in the GM-TFCA. Restoring landscapes to its once former state is not realistic in the 21st century.