BUBYE Valley Conservancy, which has the highest lion density in Zimbabwe with 14 lions per 100-square kilometre, is planning to translocate some lions to Malawi, Rwanda and Zambia following its failure to contain over 500 lions.
By Wongai Zhangazha
Bubye Valley Conservancy, a protected area in Beitbridge with a wide variety of wildlife species, measuring about 3 230 square kilometres, has about 525 lions. The large number of lions has strained the wildlife reserve’s biodiversity.
In February the conservancy released a statement announcing it was giving away 200 lions to places that would be of a suitable habitat for the big cats. The conservancy also said it was considering areas where the lions would not be caught up in human conflict or in wildlife areas where they would not be attacked by existing prides.
The conservancy also requested for donations to raise money for translocations.
In an interview this week, Bubye Valley Conservancy general manager Blondie Leathem said the private conservancy was considering various ideas to conserve the lions, but ruled out culling.
“We have a high population of lions, but we have not reached a stage of culling them yet, though the lions have reached a level of saturation which results in other species being killed and the lions also killing each other,” he said.
“We sent a statement saying we are open to offers and we are donating the lions, but the response has not been that big. There are three places that we have identified, African parks that have been recently revamped. We have had offers from Rwanda, Malawi and Zambia. The numbers that these parks can take are very small. They can take eight to 10 lions in each area. This still leaves the conservancy with a big number of lions. However the parks said they are not ready to take the lions this year, but next year.”
Leathem said the conservancy was widely criticised by animal rights activists for failing to contain the lion population.
“Our plea was highly sensationalised; the message that went out there was we were going to cull the lions. Lion Aid (a charity organisation that focuses on protecting lions) accused us of being irresponsible by letting the number of the lions increase; instead we should have practiced contraception,” he said. “However, this is a difficult process that can be done on a small number of animals in small reserves and it’s also very costly. Unfortunately, when we sent them our offer of donating the lions and finding suitable areas where they can be located, they turned it down.”
Leathem said they would not take offers from China.
“We don’t do lion trade with China. An African lion has to remain in Africa; it is the lion’s natural habitat.”
According to statistics obtained from the director of environment and natural resources in the Ministry of Environment Water and Climate Irvin Kunene in February, the lion population in the country is on the increase.
“For example, Gonarezhou National Park had an estimate of 24 lions in 2009, but by 2013 the population had grown by 150% to about 60. Other areas in protected zones with similar management regimes are also reflecting similar trends in population estimates,” Kunene said.
Hwange National Park, with an area of 14 900-square kilometres, has 559 lions, while Save Conservancy is estimated to have 175 lions. Gonarezhou National Park has an estimated 75 lions, while Matsetsi Units 1-5 has 59 lions, with Mana pools having 58.
Matetsi Units 6-7 and Zambezi National Park has 47 lions, Malilangwe measuring 400 square kilometres (37), Chewore North (32), Hurungwe (Nyakasanga and Rifa) (32), Matusadonha National Park (31), Gwaai Conservancy (22), Dande (21), Chizarira National Park (16), Tsholotsho buffer adjacent Hwange National Park (7), Ngamo and Sikumi forest (6), Omay (5) and Hwange Communal land (2).
Meanwhile, at least 31 rhinos in Bubye Valley Conservancy alone were killed by poachers suspected to have links with a well organised criminal syndicate that smuggles vehicles and cigarettes.
Leathem said the poaching occuring despite the conservancy having a 2,1 metre electrified perimeter fence.