Pressures on land use from increasing human populations leading to continued fragmentation of the remaining suitable habitat coupled with indiscriminate killing in defense of life and livestock and prey base depletion are recognized as being the principle causes for their decline.
“The Human Aspect
The present-day ecosystem of the Bateke Plateau (savannas, gallery forests, etc.) has been deeply influenced by human activity (agriculture, hunting, savannah burning, etc.) for at least 3000 years. More than almost anywhere else in the Congo Basin, the maintenance of biodiversity on the Plateau is directly related to human activities. Recently, these human activities, mainly commercial hunting, have intensified to the point that the biodiversity of the Bateke Plateau is seriously threatened. In an ecosystem of nearly 6 million hectares (1,482,630 acres), the only zone still relatively rich in fauna is that defined by Bateke Plateau National Park (200,000 hectares). In addition, the ancient and rich cultural traditions of the Téké Kingdom (one of the three large kingdoms in the sub-region) are also under threat from rapid cultural change taking place.
The biodiversity of the park and its periphery is threatened by Congolese and Gabonese poachers. Associated with this problem are human-induced fires that contribute to habitat destruction of Bateke’s wildlife. The lack of sound legal base, together with insufficient funding and insufficient human resources make protected area management in Gabon difficult. This is compounded by inadequate political and popular support for Gabon’s new National Parks Office. A further problem is the limited support for the national park amongst local communities due to lack of concrete benefits resulting from conservation activities.
Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) Activities
Recruitment, training and equipping of a team of technicians is necessary for managing Bateke Plateau National Park. The park staff must include guards, assistants of ecological and socio-economic monitoring teams, tourist guides, along with the head warden, who must also be mentored. The social science team has visited all of the villages around the park, doing community outreach and working to identify possible conflicts that will need further attention. The biological monitoring team in the park is documenting the presence of large mammals. A recent mission has found unconfirmed tracks of lions, thought to have disappeared from the region, and camera traps have been placed along trails in an effort to confirm their presence in the park. Ultimately, these teams will be placed under the control of the park management team, when permitted by budgets and legal statutes.
We seek to improve local support for the national park through small-scale development projects (feasibility studies are currently in progress, assessing potential micro-agricultural projects and ecotourism), educational activities (mentoring of about 30 teachers around the park), and media promotion (newspaper articles, radio transmissions, documentaries)" (html)
Henschel (2006) notes that lions are; “...isolated from other lion populations and suffer from pervasive threats including habitat encroachment, illegal persecution, and illegal hunting of their prey. To ensure the lion does not disappear from the Central Africa savannas forever will require immediate and determined action. In particular, more surveys in the Gabon-Congolian savannas are required to confirm the current presence of lions in the Batéké region and adjacent areas on both sides of the border; and most urgently, curtailing illegal cross-border hunting from Congo will prevent further declines in prey that likely precipitated the widespread extinction of lions in Gabon and Congo in the past. The Congolese government is aware of this issue and announced at the 7th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity, held in February 2004, that it will gazette a protected area bordering the Gabonese PBNP...
The creation of this protected area could immediately lead to a decrease of cross-border hunting in the Gabonese park, and ultimately both areas would encompass about 4000 km2 of protected lion habitat. Given the relatively low population densities lions were found to attain in the savannas of West and Central Africa (Bauer et al. 2003), this area alone might still not be enough to harbor a viable lion population, but 90 km to the southeast lies Léfini Reserve where lions also used to occur until recently (Agnagna 2001). This reserve stretches over 6,000 km2 but a major highway runs along its eastern border and the hunting pressure originating from the close-by capital Brazzaville is high, so that large mammals are reportedly scarce (Ahab Downer, unpubl. report). Stepping up protection in the Léfini Reserve and the maintaining of a corridor along the Léfini River to connect Léfini with the new protected area bordering PBNP could possibly create a protected landscape large enough to ensure the long-term survival of the lion and its prey in the Batéké region. But the first step towards this goal would be to confirm that lions do in fact still occur in the Gabon-Congolian savannas.”
Henschel P (2006) The lion in Gabon: historical records and notes on current status. CAT News, 44, 10-13 (pdf – purchase required)
Trade in Lions
Number of wild source lions estimated in international trade, 1999-2008: 3
Average annual wild source trade as percent of population size*: 3%
* Used average of Chardonnet (2002) and Bauer & van der Merwe (2004) studies
“Hunting of lions is prohibited in Gabon. From evidence it seems likely that lions are extinct in Gabon (Henschel et al, 2010). Between 1999-2008, one skin and four trophies were exported from Gabon to France. Two trophies were pre-Convention and traded for personal purposes, two trophies were wild source and traded for hunting purposes, and one skin was wild source and traded for personal purposes. All were of Gabonese origin. This represents three wild source lions, 33 percent (3 of 10) of the population at the time. Annualized, these exports represent 3 percent of the population. These legally exported specimens may have been Gabon’s last lions”.
Place J, Flocken J, Travers W, Waterland S, Telecky T, Kennedy C, Goyenechea A (2011) Petition to list the African Lion (Panthera leo leo) as endangered pursuant to the US Endangered Species Act. The International Fund for Animal Welfare, The Born Free Foundation, The Humane Society of the United States and Humane Society International, Defenders of Wildlife (pdf)
Lions in Culture
Lion From Gabon – an excerpt from The Amazing Adventures of Professor von Borgengruft (html)
During the daytime the lion seldom attacks man, and sometimes even when meeting a traveller he is said to pass by him unnoticed; but when the shades of evening descend, his mood undergoes a change. After sunset it is dangerous to venture out of camp, for the lion lies in wait.
It is then, that dramatic scenes of absorbing interest not infrequently take place.
One such event, which I am about to relate, took place last night, after we had retired to our respective tents for a well deserved sleep. The frightful experience with the male Gorilla earlier in the day had left most of us rather edgy and sleep doesn't come easy in this humid tropical climate, at the best of times.
After an hour or so, of tossing and turning, I decided to take a little walk around the camp to calm my nerves and overcome this dreadful insomnia.
The pleasant sound of rushing water coming from the mountain spring, a few hundred feet from the camp, made me realise that I was indeed very thirsty for a draught of that cool sparkling water. I looked carefully around the peaceful moonlit scene and listened intently for any strange sounds before venturing cautiously towards the brook.
Having assured myself that 'all was well', and kneeling beside the stream, I began to drink the sweet cold water with cupped hands. A small herd of Wildebeests were also watering a little further downstream......an idyllic African scene, to be sure!
However, my enjoyment was cut short in an instant, when I spied out of the corner of my eye an ominous sight......Less than twenty yards from me, crouched in the low shrubbery and ready to spring, was a huge lion.
Terrified at the unexpected sight of such a beast, that seemed to have its eyes fixed on me, I instantly took to my heels. In doing so, I had the presence of mind enough to run through the herd of Wildebeests, concluding that if the lion should pursue, he would take up with the first beast that presented itself.
In this, however, I was mistaken. The lion broke through the herd, making directly after yours truly, who after turning around and perceiving that the monster had singled him out, breathless and half dead with fear, scrambled up one of the nearby trees. At the same moment the lion made a spring but missing his aim, fell upon the ground.
In surly silence he walked around the tree, casting at times a dreadful look towards your poor old Professor, who screened himself from his sight behind the branches. Having remained silent and motionless for a length of time, I ventured to peep hoping that the lion had taken his departure, when to my great terror and astonishment, my eyes met those of the animal, which flashed fire at me.
In short, the lion laid himself down at the foot of the tree, and did not remove from the place for twenty-four hours. At the end of this time, becoming parched with thirst, he went back to the spring in order to drink.
With trepidation, I ventured to descend, and scampered off back to camp as fast as my feet would carry me. My hands are still shaking as I type these words on my trusty laptop computer.
After so many Safaris into the heart of darkest Africa, this old trekker should have known better, than to leave camp after nightfall.
And, it is a well known fact, that if a traveller encounters a lion by daylight, he turns tail and sneaks out of sight like a scared greyhound. All the talk about his majestic roar is sheer twaddle. It takes a keen ear to distinguish the voice of the lion from that of the silly Ostrich.
When the lion grows old, he leads a miserable life. Unable to master the larger game, he prowls about the villages in hopes to pick up a stray goat. When the natives hear one prowling about the villages, they say: "His teeth are worn out; he will soon kill men", and thereupon turn out and put an end to him.
This is the only foundation for the common belief that when the lion has once tasted human flesh he will eat nothing else. When an aged lion lives far from human habitation so that he cannot get goats or children, he is often reduced to such straits as to be obliged to make his meals of mice and such small prey.
Upon the whole, in the dark, or at all hours when breeding, the lion is an ugly enough customer; but if a man will stay home by night, and not go out of his way to attack him, he runs less risk in Africa of being devoured by a lion, than he does in New York City of being run over by a skateboard....."
Lions in the News