Written by Xia Stevens, Panthera and SMART Program Manager for Southern Africa
I am absolutely in awe of lions. The way they interact with one another, the way they hunt and the way they move over such large distances has always captured my attention. Just the other day In Kafue National Park, Zambia, where I live, we found a lion pride with four new cubs, which were fathered by a male who originally came from over 100 km away! This is very exciting as it is a pride of lions who haven’t managed to successfully raise any cubs to adulthood for the last 5+ years. Our job - working on the front lines with Panthera, the world’s largest big cat conservation organization - is to give these new cubs the best fighting chance.
Sadly, during the large journeys that African lions take they meet many challenges which threaten their survival along the way. There are threats of snaring from wild meat poaching, retaliatory killings from conflict incidents with humans, and ill-managed trophy hunting, just to name a few. Although it is absolutely incredible that these lions move such large distances, it does make it very difficult to ensure the survival of this precious species.
North Carolina Zoo is helping Panthera with their mission to protect these lions across Southern Africa. We use SMART technology to ensure the safe passage of these animals. Using SMART we can ensure that on-the-ground interventions such as anti-poaching efforts are being targeted to exactly where these lions are known to move and spend time. In partnership with the Department of National Parks and Wildlife, Zambia (DNPW) and Zambian Carnivore Program (ZCP), we use collar data to find the exact routes these lions are taking and then we use SMART technology to ensure the patrol teams conduct snare sweeps on these exact routes, making sure there will be risk-free path for the lions to travel.
This method is proving to be extremely effective. In fact, since Panthera began supporting SMART patrolling in Kafue National Park, the number of snared lions found in Intensive Protection Zones has declined to zero since early 2019!
Panthera and the North Carolina Zoo will continue to use this method and increase coverage of SMART technology across not only Kafue National Park but across all Southern African habitats that are home to lions. This will mean lion cubs such as these four will be given the best chance of survival against all odds.
You can learn more about the Zoo’s work with SMART here or at the SMART website, and Panthera’s work in Southern Africa here.