Landscape of Fear

A new study by Marion Valeix, Graham Hemson, Andrew Loveridge, Gus Mills, and David Macdonald have discovered that wild lions now live in fear of humans due to deadly encounters with humans.  The researchers found that wild lions have recently changed the way they behave within their natural habitat as a result of the threats posed by humans.  Lions now live in a “landscape of fear” say researchers.

Marion Valeix and her team explain that most prey are constantly watching for dangers associated with predators, which causes them to be in a continuous state of stress-watch.  This state is now also shared by high-level predators, such as the lion, when they are living amongst or near humans.  This new behavior was caught by a GPS tracking system which was monitoring the behavior of wild lions in Makgadikgadi Pans National Park in Botswana.  The wild lions residing in the park are known to hunt Burchell’s zebra and wildbeest during certain seasons.  However, when the zebra and wildbeest migrate elsewhere, the lions resort to hunting livestock so as to not lose established territories.  When lions hunt livestock such as cattle, they risk encountering humans, some of whom will use firearms to scare away or kill the offending lion(s). 

Having found evidence of lions that have survived encounters with armed humans, Valeix and her team of researchers believe that this fear of humans is being instilled in other lions given that lion cubs are usually very inquisitive creatures. It is believed that cubs grow up learning to be afraid of humans through their mothers and other pride members.

Studies conducted on human-lion conflict in parts of Africa have consistently shown that humans retaliate against lions for killing livestock.  However, livestock fall prey to sickness and drought far more than to lion attacks.  Sadly, with ensuing human-lion conflict, lions may one day no longer roam the Earth.  Thus, it is imperative that a solution be found for human-lion conflict management.  Some researchers believe that an incentive or reward program should be implemented in areas where human-lion conflict occur.  Other solutions include the use of more protective enclosures, but some researchers believe that this may not be feasible due to high costs and space restrictions.  An interesting proposal made by Johan du Toit, head of the Wildland Resources Department at Utah State University, involves the use of fear to prevent human-lion conflict.  Now that researchers have found that high-level prey animals, such as the lion, can live in a state of near-continuous fear, Johan du Toit believes that this state of fear can be used to avert human-lion conflict.

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