Tuesday, 9 March 2004

Threatened lions

Nearly two decades ago I put forward a proposal to the Council of the Fauna and Flora Preservation Society (now Fauna & Flora International) that there was a need for a project to address the conservation issues of the African Lion. I reckoned that its populations were becoming seriously fragmented, and it was already extinct over most of its former range. My opinion was that as the national emblem of England, it would be a good flagship species, and that the reason it was not considered threatened was only that it was still common in national parks, so visitors always saw them. The eminent members of council -- mostly scientists -- did not agree with me and the project was never adopted. And this was despite the fact that the once common and widespread Asiatic Lion was already confined to a single, tiny population. And the Barbary Lion and Cape lions were both extinct in the wild. I was therefore particularly interested in the current issue of Oryx, FFI's journal, which carries an article on the status of the African Lion -- which is indeed threatened now, with a highly fragmented range.

This made me think about the lion of the New World. The Mountain Lion, Puma, Panther, Cougar -- all the same animal. It too once had a very wide range, but has long gone from most of the Easter USA (though it is making a bit of a comeback), and elswhere throughout its range it is seriously persecuted. It is a large predator, and it does kill domestic livestock. And from time to time they do kill humans. But what it's real status is, is very little known as they are one of the most secretive of all large carnivores. Unlike the sociable African Lion, Pumas are largely solitary. And when there are humans around, generally strictly nocturnal. As I pointed out earlier, despite hours and hours of field work, dozens and dozens of prey remains, miles of tracks, the puma has yet to be seen on the Estancia la Esperanza. But we know they are there and we know they have had cubs. But we also know that there are no pumas on the whole of the Valdes Peninsula -- the largest protected are in the vicinity. So what real hope is there for the puma? We are currently designing a project on the puma -- not yet more research. There's too much research and not enough action, so we will be implenting a programme designed to help the pumas on the Estancia la Esperanza, but at the same time reduce the conflicts with sheep farmers.

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