In late 2016 I made a promise to a brave lioness in Kafue National Park. It was at the end of a long hot day as the sun finally gave way to the evening cool when I spotted her taking shade under a tree. She looked like any other beautiful lioness — waiting out the hot afternoon sun to cool off enough to begin hunting. But she wasn’t any other lioness. She was a tripod lioness; one of three victims we know of in Zambia’s Kafue National Park who have lost a leg to a snare.
Snares are silent killers laid by poachers across wild places to trap and kill animals for the illegal bushmeat trade. Every year across Africa’s national parks and other protected areas, tens of lions, African wild dog, hyena and other carnivores become maimed, injured and killed by this deadly and cruel killing method. Kafue National Park is no exception. That afternoon, as the sun sunk deep into the ground, I watched her struggle through the pain of her recent injury to limp the 20 meters to the river to take a precious drink. There and then I promised her that we would do something about the snares that were maiming and killing her kind. I promised her that we would help to make her home in Kafue National Park safe from the threats of poaching.
So we began to plan; and then we began to act. Earlier this year, with the support of the Segre Foundation, the Lion Recovery Fund, the Zambian Carnivore Program, Green Safaris Conservation Foundation and North Carolina Zoo, we supported Zambia’s Department of National Parks and Wildlife to establish a dedicated anti-poaching team to secure the home of this tripod lioness: central Kafue. The Kafue Law Enforcement and Wildlife Support program (KLAWS) was named because we will be “klawing” back Kafue’s wild spaces for the region’s wildlife.
The program is working and our most important success has been in a decrease in animals injured by snares compared to the past three years. In 2015, 2016 and 2017, there were 24 carnivores reported as injured by or carrying a snare (15 lions, 4 African wild dogs, 4 hyena, and one leopard) across the focal protection area. We are holding our breath as this number seems to have significantly decreased with only one lion was reported as a snare victim within the focal area in 2018 following the start of our program.
By the end of November 2018, the central Kafue anti-poaching team has also:
- swept over 6,000 km of habitat clean of snares;
- removed over 378 snares before they were able to kill or maim animals;
- dismantled 127 bushmeat drying racks;
- arrested 58 poachers; and
- destroyed 74 poacher camps.
As the sun sets each night in Kafue, my mind turns to the tripod lioness. I thank DNPW and all our partners for helping to make her home safe. She is alive and well, still living in central Kafue. We see her each year in October/November when impala lambs are available as easy prey. Otherwise, she remains unseen for the rest of the year. However, we have still been privileged to witness the best part of her journey. Last year our promise to her got stronger as she was seen with her new cub, whom we call “Lushomo” – the local word for hope. That hope is now turning into reality. Lushomo’s chances of growing up as all big cats should, forever part of Africa’s wilderness, but always safe from poachers and their snares, continues to increase.
Read more about Panthera's lion conservation work here.