Kate on Conservation

The last of the lions? Lessons from Meru


The ongoing battle to prevent lion extinction by 2031

It’s no secret that lion populations are declining.

In fact, in just the last century, the population across Africa has dropped by nearly 97%1, with many reports suggesting that wild lions would be extinct by 20202.

 Lions are already extinct in 26 African countries, but while the species may have survived that imminent deadline, with just 20,000 remaining, international wildlife charity Born Free is urging the public to help turn these horrifying statistics around.

Brutus the lion at shamwari game reserve
Brutus the lion rescued by Born Free was relocated to the charity’s Big Cat Rescue Centre at Shamwari Game Reserve

It’s almost impossible to imagine that if their decline continues at the same rate, lions could be extinct by 2031. 

The Last Lions of Meru campaign

It’s not all doom and gloom though; as part of their Last Lions of Meru campaign, Born Free is highlighting just how supporting conservation efforts can make a difference and save us from a world without the kings of the jungle.

Home of the famous Elsa (the lioness whose story was told in the original book and film Born Free) and now Elsa’s pride, Meru National Park was tragically decimated by poachers in the 1980s. 

In the 2000s, concerted efforts were made to restock the park with wildlife and manage it effectively. 

Elsa and her cub May 2019

In 2014 Born Free, working alongside Kenya Wildlife Service, launched its ‘Pride of Meru’ initiative to further revitalise the park and now it is not only home to a stable population of 60-80 lions, but also a whole host of other wildlife including 35 mammal, 400 bird and 40 reptile species.

The future of Meru

Meru still has a long way to go but Born Free is looking to increase lion protection, monitoring and population tracking, as well as expanding their conservation work across the Meru Conservation Area, and rekindling the entire ecosystem so that other species can flourish once more.

Will Travers OBE, President and Co-Founder of Born Free, said: “Our work in Meru National Park is a wonderful example of just how resilient our world can be, and how nature will bounce back if we all work together. 

Once poaching in the park was brought under control, wildlife was able to re-establish itself across the many diverse habitats found in this unique protected area.

Mulika lion pride in Meru National Park

“By implementing our lion monitoring project, working with local communities and schools bordering the park, educating and empowering people and highlighting the importance of wildlife conservation, we have been able to encourage co-existence, and promote more sustainable livelihoods that work for local communities living around Meru, and its wildlife,” he added.

A world without them is quite simply, unimaginable.

But This is only the first step…

“Our plan, building on the success of our protection work and Meru’s thriving wildlife, is to expand our efforts across the whole of the Meru Conservation Area spanning more than 4,000 km2 including Kora National Park and the Bisinadi and Mwingi national reserves.” Born Free Co-Founder Will Travers explains.

“Starting with Meru, we must redouble our efforts to save and protect the lions of Africa now more than ever – a world without them is quite simply, unimaginable.”

Meru National Park over 6 decades

Virginia McKenna OBE, actress and Co-Founder of Born Free, first arrived in Kenya 56 years ago with her husband Bill and their young family to film Born Free.

“Little did we know then that our lives would be changed forever by the unique and inspiring story of Elsa the lioness, the incredible compassion of George and Joy Adamson, and the bonds we formed with some of the lions we worked with in the film,” Virginia explains.

“In those days, Meru was famous for its abundant wildlife and, some say, even rivalled the famous Maasai Mara. However, tragically, in the 1980s Meru was overrun by poachers and its wildlife was decimated. But, today, Meru is fighting back.

“At Born Free, we want a world where lions roam free, safe from poachers and human-wildlife conflict. Where people around the park and the wildlife within it can co-exist peacefully. Where nature thrives.

“I am asking people who share our vision to join us and help ensure a future for wild lions.”

To support Born Free’s Pride of Meru programme visit www.bornfree.org.uk.

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