The African Lion Rehabilitation and Release into the Wild Program was developed by our partner, Antelope Park in Gweru in Zimbabwe to seek an answer as to how to successfully use captive bred lions to create a source for the reintroduction of lions into the wild. Since then the program, supported by ALERT, has expanded to Victoria Falls, also in Zimbabwe and Livingstone in Zambia. All current elements of this program are operated and funded by our partners, Antelope Park and Lion Encounter Zimbabwe & Zambia except for the stage two release site known as Ngamo, located adjacent to Antelope Park in Gweru. The cost of the fence at this site was funded by Antelope Park, but the cost of its erection, all other development, maintenance and operational costs are funded by ALERT.
There are many complications and potential dangers inherent in reintroducing lions back into the wild, most notably the likely conflicts with humans and their livestock following release; this may be especially true of captive bred lions that might not have learned human avoidance characteristics of some wild lions. There are several reasons that have been put forward to explain why past predator releases have had limited success (Sharma 2005):
• the animals were not given pre-release training
• their dependence on humans was not curtailed
• they were released as individuals with no natural social system
• and that they had no experience of predatory or competitive species.
The African Lion Rehabilitation & Release into the Wild Program seeks to find a solution to these problems by using a four-stage program. The intention is to rehabilitate captive bred lions into a limited number of semi-wild environments (stage three), free of any human contact. These self-sustaining and socially stable wild-living prides will give birth to cubs that will be raised by the pride in their natural environment; such that they have natural skills comparable to any wild-borne lion. As such they can be reintroduced into appropriate national parks and reserves, identified for their protection.
There are those who believe that Africa has no future destinations for such lions. This is far from the truth. Reintroductions may be suitable in protected areas where lions have been extirpated or where extant populations have become genetically non-viable and natural re-colonization is unlikely. Examples could include countries recovering from civil war and economic instability such as Angola, Mozambique, Rwanda and Uganda. As these countries have stabilized there are now massive areas available for carefully planned wildlife reintroduction and ecosystem revitalization programs. Such incentives will include the eventual reintroduction of major predators such as lions.
Within West Africa the lion is designated as regionally endangered. Genetic incompatibility with lions from the rest of the continent means that simply translocating lions from other parts of Africa is not the answer, whilst moving the remaining lions around within the region could have negative effects on source populations through increased risks of inbreeding depression.
Further, even some of the most notable populations, such as is found within the Ngorongoro Crater, are closed to gene flow and would benefit from an infusion of genetic material.
Alongside lion reintroduction, CCWA & ACT programs will seek to ensure the sustainability of those reintroduced populations by understanding their environment and ecology better whilst generating support from local communities to protect them.
Continue to the next page about the Release Program: Stage One.
The long-term viability of current lion conservation strategies: A role for ex situ reintroduction
A framework for the ex situ reintroduction of the African Lion