Saving Africa’s Big Cats

Lions, leopards, and other charismatic large carnivores are declining across Africa. The North Carolina Zoo works towards reversing these declines by equipping conservation staff on the ground with technology to more easily collect information on threats to large cats and other threatened wildlife. By streamlining data collection and reporting efforts in the savannas of southern and western Africa, the NC Zoo thereby enable protected area managers to make better informed decisions about how best to protect wildlife from illegal activities.


Multiple Threats Driving Declines

Across Africa, populations of large carnivores like cheetahs, lions, and leopards are declining. Many of these amazing animals are targeted by poachers who sell the body parts to traditional healers, and skins to more affluent consumers. Poaching of large cats has become particularly acute in recent years as Asian markets are increasingly looking towards Africa to fill the gaps left by the decline of Asian tiger populations. But large cats are also often caught unintentionally in snares meant for other animals, and persecuted in retaliation for livestock predation. Consequently, lion populations have been reduced by almost 50% in the last 20 years, and cheetahs have lost over 90% of their range. The extinction of many of these species is possible if declines are not reversed. 


Building Capacity in Southern Africa

Working with our partner Panthera (the world’s largest big cat conservation organization), the North Carolina Zoo has been training conservation area staff and deploying SMART technology in national parks in Zambia and Zimbabwe to improve anti-poaching efforts. Improving conservation-focused law enforcement is key because wildlife in Zambia and Zimbabwe is under unprecedented pressure from poachers who hunt wildlife for an increasingly commercialized trade in game meat and body parts for traditional medicine. Large carnivores are particularly affected by these activities because they suffer from reductions in prey populations, mortality in snares, and direct persecution. So far we have set up SMART-based monitoring in five different national parks and advised several other areas on their own SMART deployments. Improvements in the success and motivation of ranger patrols has also prompted the national governments of Zambia and Zimbabwe to adopt SMART as their official monitoring system across all their protected areas.


Saving Some of West Africa’s Last Lions

Another special place where the North Carolina Zoo is helping to protect carnivores is Nigeria’s Yankari Game Reserve. Yankari is home to Nigeria’s last population of lions, in addition to elephants, hippo, and other wildlife. To support conservation efforts in the region, the NC Zoo has been providing equipment such as uniforms to increase workplace pride, and technical support to improve effectiveness of wildlife survey efforts. Lastly, in 2017 we also trained over 100 park rangers at Yankari how to use SMART. With ongoing support, we are confident that our efforts will turn the tide against poaching once and for all.


Partners: Conservation Lower Zambezi, Conservation South Luangwa, Game Rangers International, Nigeria National Parks Service, Painted Dog Conservation, Panthera, Wildlife Conservation Society