Today is World Wildlife Day! The theme for this year is ‘Big Cats‘; which encompasses the four largest wild cats — which are also the ones that roar — lions, tigers, leopards and jaguars. Often the term is extended, as is the case with World Wildlife Day, to include the cheetah, snow leopard and mountain lion, and sometimes even the clouded leopard and Sunda clouded leopard (pictured above).
Having recently spoken with BBC Researcher and Digital Researcher Tania Esteban about her work on the BBC One series Big Cats and her film A Lion’s Tale, I was inspired to focus my blog post today on lions.
I discussed at length the current CITES protection status of lions in my earlier post about Cecil the lion’s legacy, so instead, my personal theme of today is hope. To me, hope is key in conservation. We have must have belief that the fight is one worth taking on, and one such person who is fighting for lions — and showing just how much one person can make a difference — is Drew Abrahamson. I decided to find out more…
Lion Rescue and Relocation Work
I was curious to learn more about Drew’s work with Captured In Africa Foundation — who I spotlighted on a previous blog post. If you would like to know more about what they do and why, more info can be found here.
Name: Drew Abrahamson
Organisation: Captured in Africa Foundation
Job Title: Director & Founder Captured In Africa Foundation
Location: Johannesburg, South Africa
Favourite animal: Leopard. It’s strange I know, because I rescue and relocate lions, but they found me.
I first realised I wanted to work with big cats when: There wasn’t really a point of realisation, it happened so naturally and without any fanfare, that one day I found myself immersed in conservation and fighting for them.
I got into this field because: I strongly believe that everything you do in life that you are passionate about, is chosen before you are even born, and that you come to Earth to fulfil that purpose if you are lucky enough to.
As I mentioned before, leopards are my favourite animal so you would think I would be directly involved with them somehow — and although I have been contacted to help with leopard / farmer conflict — the main animal that I have ended up working with is lions.
What I’ve learnt along the way: I have learnt many things, so to pinpoint one specifically is difficult. The lessons and human emotion is definitely what stands out for me though. Dealing with rescues and relocations brings about so many different emotions on a daily basis across the spectrum and on opposite sides…from elation to despair.
It has taught me to fight and not give up, as that’s not an option. It has taught me how to work with people but sadly has shown me that not all people who claim to be friends are. I think I have become more humble and earthly doing what I do, always thinking of the animals before myself.
Most memorable rescue: There have been memorable moments with all the rescues I have done, wild as well as captive. The feeling you get when you see an animal that was in a compromise walking into an area where they will be safe forever, there is no way to explain that & my heart more often than not is on my sleeve.
I am a fierce fighter and believe that we should be fighting fiercely for our wild lion and the habitat they occupy, so if I am completely honest, the wild lions that I have relocated have been the most rewarding as they are still alive to contribute to the conservation of the species.
Favourite people/organisations I’ve worked with: I work with amazing people in conservation but am very specific as to who, as they need to have the same moral compass and vision for where they see wild or captive lions and other wildlife to be in the future.
I think my favourite people I work with are Dereck & Beverly Joubert who are National Geographic Explorers In Residence and own their own lodges and properties throughout Africa under the brand Great Plains Conservation, they have their own foundation called Great Plains Foundation which is specific to Lion and Rhino.
Other organisations I work closely with are Four Paws International (Vier Pfoten) who own Lions Rock Lodge & Sanctuary in Bethlehem, Free State, South Africa — who are partners with Princess Alia Foundation in Jordan and have their own Sanctuary. Another is Born Free Foundation; we have collaborated on International issues and we often communicate via e-mail on certain situations regarding zoo or captive issues in Europe.
Career highlight: I think it was one of the first rescues I had done. I started an online campaign to bring awareness to a situation regarding a white lioness called Nyanga, who was born & being kept at a zoo breeding farm in the Free State. Nyanga attacked a zoo employee who subsequently died.
The whole situation was due to human error, as the gate was left open at feeding time and she was going to be euthanised.
It was a 4 ½ month battle applying pressure to various authorities to grant her a second chance at life. We were successful and when I got word from the authorities I just burst out crying… I think that was mainly from pure exhaustion after many sleepless nights and stressful days!
Biggest challenge: It has to be trying to locate a safe reserve for wild lions as there are very few empty spaces left, especially in South Africa due to all the reserves being fenced.
Each fenced reserve has a certain carrying capacity and are on the constant lookout for a place to move their lions to or they have to cull. I think the longest time frame was about 1 year and 6 months to find two males a safe home.
Another is when lions break out of reserves and find themselves in compromise due to being in the middle of communities, most times manpower is limited and days or weeks later the lion has now killed livestock or has become a danger to community members, so hunters are called in to destroy the lion/s.
However, there is a solution as Carl from Pit-Track K9 Conservation and Captured In Africa Foundation have joined forces starting an initiative called K9’s For Big Cats, which uses dogs trained specifically to track and locate lions quickly, so we can relocate them back to the safety of the reserve or sanctuary they have managed to escape from.
Hopes for the future: I am eternal optimist and for me there is always hope, this is what I choose to focus on and don’t pay too much attention to negativity or walls placed in front of me. I can scale.
There are so many organisations and individuals from around the world who have banded together to fight for our wildlife and it is the most humbling and heartening thing to see — and experience. Children from different countries are doing school projects and presentations from as young as Grade 3 to bring awareness to their peers and parents, this is the beauty of education — which is vital.
It is a movement that is growing daily and this gives me hope — because the more people that stand up against atrocities, the stronger our chance of protecting our wild spaces and the animals within.
World Wildlife Day parting thought: I would love for people to set differences aside and start working together. We are all on the same mission, which is to do as much for whatever species we have chosen. At the end of the day, whether it is a lion or a pangolin, we need to have an important common goal — which is to protect habitat, because the biggest hindrance is habitat loss. This has a knock-on effect of human-wildlife conflict. I believe people should start focusing on dropping egos for the benefit of our wildlife or we are in serious trouble.
For more information about Captured in Africa and their latest news, visit their website here.
Learn more about big cats
Want to know more about lions?
- Read about the plight of lions at CITES 2016
- What happened when the story of Cecil broke?
- Lion Aid raises funds in Cecil’s honour
- Blood Lions: a Born Free Foundation documentary
- Global March for Lions
Want to hear more from the people working with big cats?
- Discover Alan Rabinowitz and his work to save the jaguar
- Read Part 1 of my interview with ‘The Big Cat People’ Jonathan & Angela Scott
- Part 2 of my interview with Jonathan & Angela Scott about The Marsh Pride
- Exclusive interview with those working on the ground to save lions
- What’s was it like to work on the BBC series Big Cats?
Want to learn about the plight of tigers?