This year was a very different year on many levels.
It was a year that saw the world change in unexpected ways. How those changes play out, and what comes of them, remains to be seen. We can and should take this opportunity to better ourselves and our planet and strive towards making real change for our wildlife and the environment. Many people across the world see this as a turning point for positive change and we hope that it is.
In some ways, this year the world stood still, but it did not for us. It was an incredibly busy year for our Directors Drew Abrahamson and Carl Thornton. Here, we take a look back on the year that was;
Following the onset of COVID-19 across South Africa, we were sent into lockdown in late March. With poaching on the rise, Drew and Carl obtained travel permits under essential services, and headed to partner organisation Pit-Track’s Timbavati Headquarters to assist the teams on the ground. Whilst continuing to work behind the scenes in lion conservation, Drew’s efforts were required to be focussed on Pit-Track’s anti-poaching work. The teams were placed under extra pressure, working hard on perimeter searches and security, and undertaking intense training exercises. Drew particularly enjoyed the detection exercises, which she described as being like putting pieces of a puzzle together, with the bonds that are formed between K9 and handler being essential.
Whilst out in the bush, Drew was able to reflect upon the strange new world, which saw the tourism industry shut down, with Kruger National Park and all lodges in the Greater Kruger area being closed and empty of visitors for the first time. One positive is that this gave nature and the environment a chance to regenerate and the animals were able to live in peace, largely away from human interference. Despite the extra workload and stress, Drew and Carl felt blessed to be able to spend time in what they regard as their heaven. When off-duty, their nights were spent listening to lions, hyenas and jackals calling, gazing at the stars and the moon rising over the African landscape. In those moments, there was a calmness and serenity that allowed them to feel at one with nature.
In April, our safari company Captured in Africa, presented our “Top 7 Photos of Lions”, with the lions featured in these photos being wild and free, just the way we like it. These photos were taken across South Africa, Zimbabwe, Kenya, Botswana and Zambia by Drew Abrahamson and Paul Tully, the Sales & Marketing Manager for our safari company. Accompanying the photos are some great stories and insights into lion dynamics and behaviours, capturing even more reasons why lions are so special to us.
At Captured In Africa, we focus on sustainable tourism and a “safaris for change” philosophy, that helps create positive impacts for people, habitat and animals.
Also in April, we were given a sobering reminder on the state of the world by renowned conservationists Dereck and Beverly Joubert, who were interviewed by Discover Magazine. Dereck and Beverly, and their organisations, are very close to Drew and the Foundation. Drew previously worked for them and regularly keeps in touch with them and their ongoing work across Africa.
In their interview, Dereck commented that “What we’ve been seeing over the past 50 years, in many ways, is a breakdown of harmony and balance between humans and the wild” and that “it is our excesses that have snapped back, whether we’re dealing with the global environment or killing and eating wildlife”. Beverly went on to say that “We humans are responsible for what’s going on now. We’ve pretty much created this disease ourselves through all our abuses to wildlife”.
Dereck shared his concerns about the effect of COVID-19 on the future of tourism, conservation and threats to animals, given that many organisations and tourism operators across the continent have had to lay off their staff, which has led to significant unemployment problems. He predicts that wildlife meat will be “the obvious next target” when people are struggling to feed themselves and their family. Prior to the tourism shutdown, the bushmeat trade was already wreaking havoc in Africa and significantly impacting over 300 species.
“How do we become better from this moment… normal isn’t good enough anymore. We’ve got to get better.”
Dereck Joubert, Discover Magazine Interview
Tragically, this year we have seen too many lions lost across the country that could have been saved if more action was taken. In these instances, the lions found themselves in compromised situations, nearing communities and livestock, including one lion entering a rest camp in Kruger National Park. When compromised occasions occur, we are there to offer our services in capturing and relocating the lion and we always hope that this option will be utilised. Often it is. It is a timely reminder that it takes a collaborative effort to address the issues that lions face in the wild. It is not an easy situation. Both people and lions need to feel safe and be protected, but when there is a better option to take, which can help save these already threatened cats, we urge those options to be taken.
Throughout 2020, we have been called to assist in numerous issues with wild lions around Human Wildlife Conflict. These situations are current and ongoing. More than once this year, lions had escaped from a reserve and travelled close to livestock and game farms. These incidences can be tense and take time and careful consideration to form an action plan.
We are always on call and can attend to help locate lions that are found in compromised or dangerous situations. Through K9s for Big Cats, our joint initiative with our partner organisation, Pit-Track, we can obtain the assistance of specially trained K9s who can help to locate lions. Belgian Malinois Balloo assisted us earlier in the year in the search for two missing lions.
We also use the lion’s pawprints, or spoor, to help track them and try to determine where they have been and where they are heading.
Once the lion has been located, we will then have a team deployed to the relevant area, including veterinary assistance and tracking collars where available, to assist with relocating the lion and returning it to safety. This work is hugely beneficial to farmers and local communities, which can help to save their livestock and livelihoods. What we do provides an ideal immediate solution to a problem that can cause untold losses if left unattended.
“Fighting for the injustices caused by man for a species that is so iconic, Lions, fighting to survive against all odds seems unimaginable”
There have been some success stories in lion conservation this year. Early in the year, it was announced that 36 lions from the Serengeti were being relocated to other national parks in Tanzania, after numerous instances of the lions attacking people and cattle. It was reported that the lions have been affected by encroaching human activity, which is one of the biggest problems lions face across Africa. A representative of their Wildlife Research Institute said that generally when a lion attacks a person, the lion will be killed, but as this is a large group of lions, which are listed as vulnerable, they have chosen to relocate them instead. This is an extremely positive step to save wild lions that would otherwise have been lost by taking the easy way out.
Kenya has recently reported a “lion cub boom”, which they say shows positive signs of an increase in the number of lions in the country for first time in decades. Numerous cubs have been born in prides across the Maasai Mara, Nairobi National Park and Amboseli National Park, which are said to be due to the conservation efforts across the country. It was reported that there are now over 250 lions in the Amboseli area, as “Maasai warriors who used to hunt lions as a sign of achievement are learning to monitor and protect them instead”. This is a great example of the power of educating and encouraging local populations to work with lions, instead of against them, as there is a greater understanding of the animals’ conservation value, as opposed to them being seen as threats to their livelihood and livestock.
In the middle of the year, we shared our four-part “Africa’s Treasures” blog series, which focused on a number of Africa’s treasured animals and the dangers they face, including lions, wild dogs, rhinos, pangolins, hyenas, elephants, giraffes and zebras. The blogs included some great photos and interesting facts about these animals and some of the relationships they have across the savannah. Whilst our work is primarily on big cat rescues, we also work towards educating and raising awareness on conservation and issues relating to all African wildlife.
On 10 August 2020, we celebrated World Lion Day. It is always a special day for the Foundation to take time to pay tribute to these amazing predators. This year, we put a call out to receive stories and memories from our team and supporters, as well as those working in lion and wildlife conservation, to help us celebrate. What followed was a truly remarkable and inspiring array of stories and photos, which we put together in a three-part series. Drew explained that “Reading all these incredible stories from my esteemed colleagues, supporters and friends have put together… humbles me. It makes me realise that I am connected with these people because we all share a deep love for the African Bushveld and all the wildlife that inhabit its space. A deep love for our Lion – King of Beasts”.
She also wrote that “Lions are the epitome of the African bushveld, Lords and Ladies of their land. Grace, strength, power, rugged… hard beauty. Faces that tell stories of survival in a world that has become obsessed with materialistic gain, instant gratification and less in touch with the wonders of our planet!” She told how her lion work fell into her lap 17 years ago, and that she “just had to trust that what I was embarking on was part of my life’s journey. Little did I know back then that I would need to fight some of the toughest emotional battles of my life. Fighting for the injustices caused by man for a species that is so iconic, Lions, fighting to survive against all odds seems unimaginable.
She went on to note that “Life is tough… but it is tougher for Lions, we cannot be half-hearted in our approach in doing what we believe is right by them”, and that “Life sometimes gives us second chances to right the wrongs, but right now… we don’t have the luxury of time, we cannot get to a place and sit with the questioning, guilt ridden words of ‘if only’…”
One of the many contributors to our World Lion Day celebration was Lord Michael Ashcroft, a businessman, philanthropist, author and pollster, who is a passionate campaigner for wildlife conservation. Earlier in the year, his book “Unfair Game”, an exposé of the canned hunting industry, was launched to much praise. The book is the result of his undercover investigations into this horrific industry in South Africa and is both enlightening and educational.
Lord Ashcroft shared with us some of the details of his work, stating that “As part of my desire to expose the evils of lion farming, I used undercover operatives, including former Special Forces men. One of them, posing as a trophy hunter, had chosen a captive-bred lion, who was later called Simba, from a “menu” of lions available on the internet. During several eventful months, we discovered that the chosen lion had even been used as the target in a so-called “green hunt” in which the animal is shot with a tranquiliser dart rather than live bullets. Eventually, my undercover team rescued Simba just hours before my first revelations about lion farming appeared over 11 pages of a British newspaper – The Mail on Sunday”. After being able to save Simba, he told of how he later returned to South Africa “for a poignant and emotional visit: to set eyes on Simba for the first time after he had been found a permanent new home at a secret location in South Africa”.
We thank Lord Ashcroft for his contribution to our piece, and for his important work in shining a spotlight on the issues facing captive lions in South Africa. We hope that his book can reach audiences worldwide and help to educate people to stop them becoming innocently involved in the canned hunting industry.
On 2 October 2020, rescued lion Kesari celebrated his one-year anniversary at his forever home at the ADI Wildlife Sanctuary. We are happy to report that he is a happy and healthy lion, who has settled in well at the sanctuary, where he is very popular. He loves playing with his toys and laying around roaring with his neighbours, with whom he has formed a solid bond. He has one of the loudest roars in the sanctuary, which is often heard at sunset and dawn.
Two days after his anniversary, we released our “Where Is He Now?” story about Kesari’s relocation, which can be read here. In that story, Drew explained the emotions involved in lion rescues, including that “there are so many emotions involved during the process of any rescue or relocation that happen from initial contact, which can cause a bit of stress due to lack of space, then my mind tends to go into overdrive as I am then determined to find the right place! It is heartbreaking and frustrating when it doesn’t work out the way you envisioned. Then you’re pushing through to find solutions to issues. And finally, it’s pride and elation when their paws touch their new home’s soil for the first time”.
Some interesting research into the lion’s roar has recently been released, with scientists from WildCRU using machines to discover that each lion’s roar is unique. The scientists designed a device which was attached to lion GPS collars to record data. The results of the study showed that each lion’s roar can be distinguished from other roars. It is believed that lions are able to recognise the individual calls of other lions. A representative of WildCRU commented that “African lion numbers are declining and developing cost effective tools for monitoring, and ultimately better protecting, populations is a conservation priority. The ability to remotely evaluate the number of individual lions in a population from their roars could revolutionise the way in which lion populations are assessed”. This is an important development in lion research as finding new ways of being able to monitor lion numbers will be of great assistance in the future.
“Life is tough… but it is tougher for Lions, we cannot be half-hearted in our approach in doing what we believe is right by them… we don’t have the luxury of time, we cannot get to a place and sit with the questioning, guilt ridden words of ‘if only’…”
With our partner organisation Pit-Track securing their second deployment in the Greater Kruger area, we were required to build new predator-proof kennels for our anti-poaching K9s. One of our affiliates Protecting African Lions, provided a generous donation towards these new kennels. We thank Stephen Travis and his team at P.A.L. for helping to keep our K9s comfortable and secure, for which we are extremely grateful. P.A.L. provides both the Foundation and Pit-Track with much-needed funding for all of our initiatives, including “K9s for Big Cats”, and are a great support to us and our work.
We take this opportunity to thank all of our affiliates and supporters who have helped and followed us this year. We are very appreciative of the contributions to and support of our Foundation. We look forward to your continuing support next year!
As part of our Foundation team, we have had the assistance of Paul Tully, a strong lion advocate, who provides us with social media, marketing and website support and raising awareness and education about the issues facing our wildlife. We have also had the services of our Australian Ambassador, Miranda Paech, from Victoria, Australia. Miranda works tirelessly to assist with research, raising awareness, education, correspondence and fundraising. Earlier in the year, we welcomed our Blog Content Writer, Jane Alexander, from South Australia. Jane is assisting us with writing blogs and newsletters, as well as providing support and assistance for other initiatives. Jane and Miranda have formed a formidable team in Australia and are working together to increase our support base and initiatives there. Their roles are voluntary, and we are very grateful for the time, care and effort they give us.
As we conclude our look back on the year that was, we must look towards the future. No-one really knows what that future will look like or how the world will look post-pandemic.
What we do know is that time is running out for many of our precious animals and drastic action needs to be taken. As Beverly Joubert said in the Discover Magazine interview, “It takes a profound moment like this to shake us all to the core so we say, “What do we need to do?” I’m hoping, if and when we do come out of COVID-19, we’re not going to forget it, and we are going to take those steps to move forward”.
Dereck Joubert summed up the situation perfectly in commenting that “We will survive this pandemic as a species. I hope that people will pause and ask, “How do we become better from this moment?” Not just how do we get back to normal – normal isn’t good enough anymore. We’ve got to get better”.
We couldn’t agree more. Our wildlife is counting on it.