Principle Threats

Pressures on land use from increasing human populations leading to continued fragmentation of the remaining suitable habitat coupled with indiscriminate killing in defence of life and livestock and prey base depletion are recognized as being the principle causes for their decline.

Bovine Tuberculosis (bTB) effecting lions in the Southern section of the Greater Limpopo lion habitat patch has been slowly spreading north with possible impacts on lion populations in and around Gonarezhou National Park (Chardonnet, 2002). 

In Zimbabwe, a single example is given here for the sole District of Nyaminyami. During the past 3 years (1999, 2000 and 2001), a total of 32 incidents have been reported to the District wildlife officer with observed losses of 50 goats, 13 donkeys and 1 dog; 3 lions were destroyed by PAC operations during the period, with averages of 1 lion destroyed per year and 10 incidents per lion destroyed (Chamoko Snodia, pers. comm.). It must be emphasized that more incidents happen which are not registered.” (In Chardonnet, 2002) 

In Zimbabwe, many areas of traditional agro-pastoralism bordering protected areas suffer from livestock depredation. In particular, in the Gowke communal land, neighbouring the Sengwa

Wildlife Research Area, rural villagers experience a negative impact from the close proximity to the reserve, wild carnivores attack domestic livestock and the conflict is severe. It was reported that, between January 1993 and June 1996, in a study area of 33km2, 241 livestock were killed by baboons, lions and leopards, which contributed respectively to 52%, 34% and 12% of the kills.  Their predation techniques are different, as baboon attack by day and usually kill small-stock such as goats and sheep, while lions and leopards attack at night, with lions killing larger prey such as cattle and donkeys. The average loss in that time period was quite consistent, with an annual loss per household equivalent to 12% of the total family’s income.  It is worth pointing out the fact that despite baboons killing more animals, lions caused the greatest economic loss because of the high value of cattle.”  (Butler, 2000)

Butler J (2000) The economic costs of wildlife predation on livestock in Gokwe communal land, Zimbabwe. African Journal of Ecology 38 (1): 23-30 (pdf – purchase required)

Chardonnet P (ed.) (2002) Conservation of the African Lion: Contribution to a Status Survey. International Foundation for the Conservation of Wildlife, France & Conservation Force, USA.

Trade in Lions

Hunting organizations in Zimbabwe allow hunting of males as young as 2 years, which is the age at which male lions become mature (Packer et al., 2009). Females were, until recently, shot as trophies in Zimbabwe, a practice that experts consider to be “inherently harmful to a population” (Packer et al., 2006).

Number of wild source lions estimated in international trade, 1999-2008:             1214
Average annual wild source trade as percent of population size*:                           8.9%
* Used average of Chardonnet (2002) and Bauer & van der Merwe (2004) studies

Between 1999 and 2008, Zimbabwe exported 2,043 lion specimens including 871 trophies, 536 claws, 146 skins, 20 bodies and 145 live. This represents at least 1,182 lions (adding trophies, skins, bodies and live). The total number of exports has decreased over the decade, as has the number of exported trophies, skins and skulls. The vast majority of specimens exported were wild source, the exceptions being 181 that were captive-bred, 89 from illegal sources, and 16 that were ranch-raised. Captive-bred lions were exported for a variety of purposes including 77 exported to South Africa for breeding, 10 live lions to Kenya and 11 to South Africa for commercial purposes.  A total of 868 wild source lion specimens were exported for commercial purposes including 343 claws, 229 trophies, 94 skins, 63 live animals, and 15 bodies; this represents a minimum of 401 wild source lions exported for commercial purposes.

The main importer of wild source lion parts for commercial purposes was the U.S. A total of 961 wild source lion specimens were exported for hunting trophy purposes including 706 trophies, 1 body, 40 skins and 160 claws. This represents a minimum of 747 wild lions exported for hunting trophy purposes. The main importer of wild source lion parts as hunting trophies was the U.S.. A total of 120 wild source lion specimens were exported for personal purposes including 48 trophies, 19 skins, 1 body and 27 claws; this represents a minimum of 68 wild source lions exported for personal purposes…In addition, 56 wild source lion specimens were exported for circus, education and scientific purposes  including 15 live wild lions for circus or travelling exhibition purposes and two skins for educational purposes. This represents 17 wild source lions exported for these purposes.

Thus, in total, during the decade, Zimbabwe exported 1,233 wild source lions. However, Zimbabwe also imported 19 of these wild source lions (all trophies) from other countries: four from Tanzania, seven from South Africa, three from Zambia, three from Mozambique, and two from Botswana. Thus the total number of wild source lions of Zimbabwean origin exported during the decade totaled 1,214. Thus, it is of concern that 1,214 wild source lions were exported from the Zimbabwe during the decade; this is 89 percent of the population (1,214 of 1,362). Annualized, these exports represent 8.9 percent of the population, a percentage not considered to be sustainable (Packer et al., 2006; Packer et al., 2009).

Packer et al. (2009) discussed the historic over-utilization of lions in Southern Africa, stating that “ peaked then fell sharply in the 1980’s and 1990’s in Botswana, CAR, Namibia, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe”. This downward harvest trend “…most likely reflected declining population sizes: success rates (as measured by harvest/quota) have fallen” for lions (Packer et al., 2009). This occurred even as demand for lion trophies has grown in the U.S. and has held stable in the European Union since the mid-1990s. The steepest declines in lion harvests occurred in jurisdictions with the highest harvest intensities (Packer et al., 2009). Packer et al. (2006) stated that lion hunting off-take in Zimbabwe is unsustainable with harvests of male lions in some areas reaching “exceptionally high” levels (11 males/1000 km2 in the Matetsi Safari Area in 1990). From 1988 to 2004, Zimbabwe harvested a higher proportion of lions than any other country, and its off-take rate has been up to three times more than most other countries in that same time period (Packer et al., 2006). However, the number of trophies exported by Zimbabwe has decreased in recent years from about 106 per year for1999-2003 to about 67 per year in 2004-2010 (Packer et al., 2009).”

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)

Packer C, Whitman K, Loveridge A, Jackson J, Funston P (2006) Impacts of trophy hunting on lions in East and Southern Africa: Recent off take and future recommendations. Background paper for the Eastern and Southern African Lion conservation workshop. Johannesburg, South Africa. (pdf)

Packer C, Kosmala M, Cooley HS, Brink H, Pintea L, Garshelis D, Purchase G, Strauss M, Swanson A, Blame G, Hunter L, Nowell K (2009) Sport hunting, predator control and conservation of large carnivores. PLoS ONE 4(6): e5941. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0005941 (pdf).

Lions in Culture

Many Zimbabweans believe rogue lions are possessed by the angry spirits of ancestors and are sent to punish communities for breaking traditional taboos (html).

A Shona Folktale

Once upon a time a man went to the bush to dig a game pit trap.  He dug and dug until the hole was deep enough to conceal him, and yet he continued to dig.  It happened that as he was thus engaged, a lion was on the prowl, hunting for food.  It came to the pit in which the man was still digging, and peering over the rim, saw a potential prey.  He sat at the edge of the pit, unseen by the digger, and waited.

In the meantime the man’s wife came with food for her husband, and while still some distance from the pit she saw the lion peering into the pit.  From the dirt flying out of the hole the woman could tell that her husband was in there digging, and that he was in a danger of becoming a meal for the lion.  Stealthily, she placed her burden of food on the ground and snuck up on the lion from its blind side.  When she got to where the animal lay she pounced on its tail and held on.  The surprised lion scrambled up and tried to free its tail, and deal mercilessly with the impudent creature who had dared to affront him, but despite its wild circling the woman held on, screaming: “Husband, husband, a lion is after you!  Come out and kill it with your assegai (spear)! Don’t be afraid, for I have it by the tail!

Hearing the alarm the husband scrambled out of the pit, and when he saw the raging lion furiously trying to free himself from the woman, he grabbed his assegai and other tools, and putting what he thought was discretion before valour, fled to the safety of his hut.

Three days later, some hunters passed by the scene and saw the spectacle of a woman, obviously fatigued, but desperately holding on to the tail of a lion who was himself shuffling slowly around in a circle, as if in a daze.  The hunters had little difficulty dispatching the lion and saving the woman, whom they escorted to her village.  There she confronted her husband and told him she would have nothing to do with him any longer.  Instead she went home with one of the brave hunters.

The given moral of this story is about living up to one’s responsibilities.  A person who fails in that regard deserves no respect or benefits.

Owomoyela O (2002) Culture and Customs of Zimbabwe.  Greenwood, Santa Barbara, CA (book – purchase required)

Mbube Mbube – a traditional children’s game (html)

Pronounced "Mboo-bay Mboo-bay," this game uses a Zulu word for lion.  In this game, children help a lion, or mbube, locate and capture an impala. Players begin the game standing in a circle and two blindfolded players start the game. One player is the lion and the other one is the impala.  First, both players are spun around. Next, players in the circle begin calling out to the lion, "mbube, mbube!" As the impala gets closer to the lion, the circle players’ chants get quicker and louder. Conversely, if the lion is far away, the circle’s chants decrease and get softer.  If the lion fails to catch the impala in a minute, a new lion is chosen, and if the lion catches the impala, a new impala is chosen.

Proverb: Until the lion tells his side of the story, the tale of the hunt will always glorify the hunter. (html)

The mhondoro or lion spirits, the spirits of clan founders, are more important than the midzimu (ancestral spirits), and generally concern themselves with matters that affect communities rather than individuals. They are consulted when locusts plague their fields, when lions are preying on the community, when people are threatened by an epidemic, or when they are about to become involved in a war. Through a possessed medium, an mhondoro may announce it has caused the problem because the people are forgetting their ancestors, or perhaps it will accuse members of the community of a specific crime like quarreling at the spirit's shrine” (html)

Governing Body

Zimbabwe Parks & Wildlife Management Authority
A department of the Ministry of Environment & Natural Resources
Corner Sandrignham & Borrowdale Roads
Botanical Gardens
PO Box CY140, Causeway, Harare


“To conserve Zimbabwe's wildlife heritage through effective, efficient and sustainable utilisation of natural resources for the benefit of present and future generations and stakeholders

The Zimbabwe Parks & Wildlife Management Authority operates under an Act of Parliament, the Parks and Wildlife Act of 1975.  The Authority manages one of the largest estates in the country, about 5 million hectares of land or 13% of Zimbabwe's total land area. It should be noted that most of the Parks are located in Ecological Regions Four and Five or rugged mountainous areas which would not have much economic alternative use.

The Authority has a mandate to manage the entire wildlife population of Zimbabwe, whether on private or communal lands. Private landowners can utilize the wildlife on their land but are still accountable to the Authority for the welfare of the animals.

Mandated with the protection, management and administration of the wildlife of Zimbabwe, the Authority has had a proud history of sound management that endeavours to preserve the unique flora and fauna heritage of Zimbabwe.”

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