Across the continent, Africa’s large carnivores are facing an uncertain future. Lions, cheetahs and African wild dogs have all disappeared from 80 – 90 percent of their original range. Both the lion and the cheetah are now classified as Vulnerable by the IUCN, with as few as 23,000 and 10,000 individuals remaining in the wild respectively. While the African wild dog is Endangered, with merely 6,600 estimated adults remaining.
Tanzania’s Ruaha National Park is a vital stronghold for these keystone species. The park holds over 10 percent of the world’s remaining lions, as well as the third largest population of African wild dogs. It’s also home to one of just four large cheetah populations remaining in East Africa. Ensuring these populations endure is critical to their species’ survival.
The animals living in Ruaha National Park rely heavily on the adjacent land—land they share with local villages. This frequently brings carnivores into contact with poor communities that rely on livestock for their livelihoods.
Attacks on livestock by lions and leopards can cost these communities 18 percent of their annual income, a devastating blow for families struggling to survive. This has sparked intense human-wildlife conflict, leading to the highest recorded rate of lion killing in modern times.
To mitigate this conflict, the Ruaha Carnivore Project began predator-proofing livestock enclosures in 2012. Fortifying these enclosures with chain-link fencing has proven extremely effective in protecting precious livestock. In the core study area, Ruaha Carnivore Project has successfully reduced attacks on livestock by 60 percent, leading to an 80 percent decline in the killing of lions, cheetah, wild dogs and leopards by humans. The project is also working to provide livestock guarding dogs to the community as a means of amplifying this progress.
Many villagers living near Ruaha National Park don’t understand the importance of conservation, or the value of the park for both conservation efforts and the local economy. To foster greater awareness of these issues, Ruaha Carnivore Project regularly brings villagers into the park on educational trips, letting them learn about the importance of protecting large carnivores first hand.
Additionally, this carnivore conservation project provides community benefits to villages that demonstrate success in living peacefully with top predators. This can include scholarships, medical care and access to veterinary services; communities vote to determine which benefits they receive. By pairing these incentives with education about conservation, Ruaha Carnivore Project is fostering a much-needed shift in the local opinion of carnivores.
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