Lion Longevity: Ants, Politics and Social Contexts



    “You cannot love game and hate predators … the land is one organism,” stated American author, conservationist and environmentalist Aldo Leopold.

    American author, conservationist, ecologist, environmentalist, forester, naturalist, thinker and scientist Aldo Leopold as soon as stated that “harmony with land is like harmony with a friend; you cannot cherish his right hand and chop off his left. That is to say, you cannot love game and hate predators … the land is one organism.”

    Although Aldo Leopold lived and labored within the United States from about 1909 (when he began with the U.S. Forest Service) to 1948, his assertion could by no means have been extra prescient than in right now’s Africa, a world away. New information, gathered by way of years of remark, is now displaying that an innocuous-seeming ant is disrupting an entire ecosystem in East Africa, illustrating the advanced internet of interactions amongst ants and lions, together with buffaloes, bushes and zebras.

    But there’s one more form of natural internet involving lions that would assist them navigate the longer term moderately than hurt them. While lots of Africa’s remaining lions dwell inside small, fragmented populations susceptible to disappearing, researchers have simply developed a brand-new framework that integrates ecological and sociopolitical threat elements to higher perceive the fragility of those populations. And that would help within the huge cats’ conservation.


    The outcomes of a brand new examine reveal that lots of Africa’s remaining lions dwell inside small, fragmented populations at nice threat of disappearing.

    Ants on bushes

    It appears virtually unbelievable {that a} tiny, invasive ant might do one thing so grand as change the tree cowl in an East African wildlife space, making it more durable for lions, the world’s most iconic predators, to hunt their most popular prey, zebras. But it’s true.

    According to a report just lately revealed within the journal Science by a staff of researchers on the University of Florida—with the assistance of fieldwork carried out in Kenya led by Kenyan and University of Wyoming scientists in cooperation with The Nature Conservancy—these tiny invaders are pulling on the ties that bind an African ecosystem collectively, figuring out who’s eaten and the place. The examine, which spans analysis over three many years, contains a mix of hidden digicam traps, collared lions tracked by satellites and statistical modeling.

    The disruption begins within the acacia bushes within the Ol Pejeta Nature Conservancy, an African wildlife space in central Kenya. The bushes are traditionally shielded from leaf-eating animals by a species of ant that nests within the bushes’ bulbous thorns. In return for his or her residence, the ants ferociously defend the bushes from gigantic plant-eaters, similar to elephants, giraffes and different herbivores—an association ecologists name mutualism.


    Although Kenya’s Ol Pejeta Conservancy might be most well-known for shielding the world’s final two northern white rhinos, it is also the house of six or seven lion prides that embody about 90 lions in whole.

    Using revealed research from the early 2000s, the researchers started to unravel the complexities of this congenial relationship in East Africa between animals and vegetation. Much to their shock, they discovered that these little ants function extremely robust defenders and had been basically stabilizing the tree cowl of their landscapes, making it attainable for the acacia bushes to persist in a spot with so many huge, plant-eating mammals.

    In the most recent examine, nevertheless, scientists say the arrival of an invasive insect referred to as the “big-headed ant” (Pheidole megacephala) is setting off a sequence of occasions that has resulted in a shift in predator-prey habits which will additional jeopardize populations of lions, a species already on the point of endangerment.

    The big-headed ants are small however voracious hunters of bugs, destroying colonies of the tree-protecting ants however not defending the bushes from the bigger animals. Having misplaced their bodyguards, the acacia bushes are being obliterated by elephants. Lions, that are ambush predators, depend on tree cowl to cover and stalk earlier than pouncing on zebras. Less tree cowl means lions aren’t as profitable at ambushing their prey.


    Invasive big-headed ants are consultants at destroying colonies of tree-protecting ants. They additionally fail to defend the bushes from bigger animals, similar to elephants. That hurts lions, since they depend on tree cowl to hunt zebras.

    The scientists say that these invasive ants confirmed up about 15 years in the past; however as a result of they weren’t aggressive towards huge animals, together with folks, not a lot discover was taken. Now, it’s evident that they’re reworking landscapes in very delicate methods however with devastating results.

    For their half, the lions are attempting to make the most effective of a foul state of affairs. The huge cats are turning their consideration to buffaloes. However, buffaloes are bigger than zebras and hand around in teams, making them far more formidable prey.

    The scientists be aware that they don’t know but what might end result from this profound swap within the lions’ looking technique, however they’re keenly involved in following up on this story. They’re additionally engaged find options to halt the lack of tree cowl in these iconic landscapes, as a result of the ants are all over the place, particularly within the tropics and subtropics.


    Sometimes, say researchers, it’s boots-on-the-ground analysis—similar to driving round in a 4×4 automobile—that yields the most effective scientific outcomes.

    You may even discover them in your yard in Florida, say the University of Florida researchers, and persons are those who’re shifting them round. Currently, the scientists are working with land managers to analyze interventions—together with briefly utilizing fences to maintain giant herbivores out—to reduce the influence of ant invaders on tree populations.

    The researchers conclude that as science continues to maneuver towards extremely superior applied sciences, similar to AI-powered information assortment, their group’s steadfast deal with Kenyan wildlife has concerned conventional strategies over a number of many years, displaying the endurance of boots-on-the-ground analysis. This examine was born, they are saying, in driving round within the mud in Land Rovers for 30 years.

    Lions on brinks

    As the ants are actually revealing, lion conservation is required greater than ever. Less than half of the 62 known-remaining, free-ranging wild African lion populations home greater than 100 lions. African lions now exist in solely 26 international locations, and almost half of those nations have fewer than 250 people. Eight international locations have solely a single wild lion inhabitants. Although the whole African inhabitants is estimated to be between 20,000 and 25,000 people, there may be concern that these small, fragmented populations in international locations with few people will disappear.


    African lions persist in solely 26 international locations, and almost half of them have fewer than 250 people. Tanzania is residence to probably the most remaining lions on the earth.

    So, now, researchers—together with these from the Endangered Wildlife Trust and the Wildlife Conservation Research Unit at England’s University of Oxford, together with 32 further coauthors from world wide—have developed a brand new framework which integrates ecological and sociopolitical threat elements to higher perceive the fragility of those populations. The evaluation might present a information for conservationists, traders and policymakers to allocate assets most successfully towards saving Africa’s lions.

    This complete evaluation is a groundbreaker: it’s the primary to take a look at each ecological and sociopolitical threat elements dealing with lions at scale. Conservation science is vital to information motion, however this analysis, revealed within the journal Communications Earth & Environment, highlights the invaluable position that economists, improvement consultants, politicians and others should play to safeguard lions and biodiversity. The analysis findings clearly exhibit that, even when they’re the identical dimension, lion populations could have vital variations of their vulnerability as a result of ecological and sociopolitical elements.

    For instance, each Benin in West Africa and Sudan in North Africa have a single identified lion inhabitants every, which have roughly the identical variety of lions. However, Benin’s lone inhabitants is a part of a a lot bigger transfrontier conservation space shared with two different international locations, and Benin is a comparatively extra steady and affluent nation than Sudan. Sudan’s lone inhabitants can be contiguous with a lion inhabitants abroad (Ethiopia); nevertheless, the nation is concerned in a civil conflict with folks fleeing within the hundreds of thousands. The conflict and instability undercut the power of park rangers and others to assist make sure the continuation of Sudan’s lions. So, as this comparability exhibits, when evaluating investments into defending lions, each ecological and sociopolitical elements should be thought-about.


    Higher densities of individuals and livestock had been elements that contributed to greater ecological fragility for lions.

    To conduct the examine, scientists first recognized and mapped wild African lion populations. They then created two basic classes of inhabitants fragility—ecological and sociopolitical—and recognized elements in these two classes which will affect the survival of untamed lions. For instance, a smaller lion inhabitants or greater densities of individuals and livestock had been elements contributing to greater ecological fragility, whereas greater ranges of corruption or decrease GDP (gross home product) per capita would contribute to larger sociopolitical fragility.

    Next, the ecological and sociopolitical elements had been mixed right into a single total fragility index, and every lion inhabitants was in contrast relative to all others. The fragility rating doesn’t recommend which lion populations deserve safety or funding. It does, nevertheless, spotlight the various anthropogenic and ecological pressures dealing with completely different populations and which populations could require comparatively extra assets (monetary or different) to preserve.

    The mixture of those two indices supplied some fascinating comparisons. Some populations could in the end have comparable fragility scores, however they’re pushed by completely different threats. Thus, whereas on the floor, the lone lion populations in Benin and Sudan could seem comparable, they probably require completely different ranges of funding and maybe even various kinds of intervention for conservation to succeed. Pouring cash into conserving Sudan’s lions could also be comparatively ineffective until the sociopolitical elements, such because the civil conflict, are handled first. Thus, conservation teams, traders and stakeholders should concentrate on these variations when approaching lion conservation and evaluating how a lot cash, time or different funding could also be wanted to see success.


    Malawi, considered one of Africa’s smallest nations and the world’s third poorest, has an financial system that’s largely dependent upon rain-fed crops and is susceptible to weather-related shocks. Food insecurity in rural areas is extraordinarily excessive. The nation has a really small lion inhabitants that’s in peril of going extinct.

    Notably, of the 26 nations that also have lions, 16 of them rank within the 30 poorest international locations on the earth. The indisputable fact that the international locations that eradicated their lions a century or extra in the past are largely these with comparatively much less poverty right now implies that the remaining African lions are susceptible to the pressures felt by most of the globe’s poorest communities.

    It’s estimated that $3 billion could also be wanted yearly to keep up the prevailing lion populations inside protected areas. This analysis underscores the ethical accountability of wealthier nations to contribute extra considerably to lion conservation and helps to establish a number of the elements which must be thought-about to make that contribution more practical.

    Leopold on residing

    Along with the invasive ants, the quickly rising pressures on pure assets—significantly in Africa—predict a difficult future for lions. With the added human-induced threats of habitat loss, human-wildlife battle and prey depletion, lions are more and more being pushed to the brink.


    According to Aldo Leopold, “There are some who can live without wild things, and some who cannot.” Which group are you in?

    However, substantial efforts are being made to halt lion loss and regain territory for them. Conservation efforts are having some success, similar to increasing lion populations in Gorongosa National Park in Mozambique and in Niokolo-Koba National Park in Senegal.

    Environmentalist Aldo Leopold additionally as soon as stated one thing else, which, I believe, is without doubt one of the greatest issues ever uttered: “There are some who can live without wild things, and some who cannot.”

    I hope that you simply fall into the latter class.

    Here’s to discovering your true locations and pure habitats,



    The publish Lion Longevity: Ants, Politics and Social Contexts first appeared on Good Nature Travel Blog.


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