Wednesday, 6 May 2015

NEWSLINK: Lion program among African projects that Zoo Boise visitors can vote to support

Gorongosa's lion project - Projecto Leões da Gorongosa - is directed by Paola Bouley. Zoo Boise brought Bouley to Idaho to talk with volunteers, staff and Friends of Zoo Boise about her work and, by extension, the work they are supporting through contributions, volunteer hours and fundraising. But it might not be a fair competition.
Lion projects always win, joked Steve Burns, director of Zoo Boise: "People love lions."
"The love is a great thing," said Bouley. "I don't feel too bad promoting contributions to the lion project. It's definitely a much bigger-picture effort."
Lions are an important part of the ecosystem, and an important part of the economic viability of the park, she said. That spills over into the surrounding communities.
"Lions bring tourists. So that's one level where it matters," said Bouley. "Just like communities around Yellowstone National Park benefit from having the park there, it's a similar situation for the parks in Africa. Lions are really … an iconic species … and we really do need lions for the park to survive - not just for the ecology, but to sustain itself into the future."
Bouley's work is also important for lions in Africa. The population is declining - to the tune of 90 percent in the past 75 years, according to National Geographic's Big Cat Initiative.
"The situation is very dire," said Bouley. "We think of Africa, we think of lions and elephants. The fact is … lions are in big trouble across Africa."
When Bouley began work in 2012, park officials estimated there were 30 to 50 lions in Gorongosa. Bouley and her Lion Project team have compiled a "lion family album" that now has 63 - counted in just 15 percent of the park.
So that's more lions than expected. But based on the amount of food that lions have to choose from, they aren't recovering as fast as models predict. Something is happening to the lions.
It's illegal snaring - "the silent killer of lions," said Bouley. Lions are caught in traps set by hunters illegally looking for bushmeat and other food.
Snaring is not unique to Gorongosa. But it's what people resort to when crops fail or, for other reasons, they're desperate to feed their families.
"It's easy to judge. It's horrible. But the solution is complicated," Bouley said.
Her project works with law enforcement to identify where people and lions might come into conflict. "If we can alleviate top-down pressure like snaring, we can potentially increase the lion population fourfold," she said.
Bouley is eager to expand the lion research to more of the huge park with money from this year's proposal to Zoo Boise patrons. The grant would help with helicopter time to get to regions inaccessible by vehicle; setting up 100 more motion-activated cameras; maintaining the lion-dedicated vehicle; and training Mozambican researchers.
Zoo Boise is among the three biggest contributors to the Lion Project.
"I think Zoo Boise is not just a funder, but part of the Gorongosa family now," said Bouley. "And for us to do what we do, we need to have everybody here doing what they do. And it's really wonderful to see it all together. There are so many people behind the scenes making this conservation work possible - the unsung heroes of all this work."
In addition to the lion project, seven other Gorongosa National Park projects will vie for Zoo Boise support. Patrons and interested citizens can vote for their favorites through March 15. Two animal projects and two community/education projects will each get $50,000.

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