Jenny Nichols / Pongo Media
Lions are one of the planet’s most iconic and revered animals, yet the public remains largely unaware of the silent crisis they face. Their populations have seen a precipitous drop from 200,000 a century ago to just over 20,000 today, signaling an unprecedented crisis for both lions and their landscapes. In response, a group of international conservation institutions have launched the Lion Recovery Fund (LRF) which aims to raise and invest tens of millions of dollars to support the best efforts by conservationists across the continent working to recover lions and Africa’s wildlands.
The LRF, an initiative launched by the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation and the Wildlife Conservation Network, aims to catalyze investment in the most effective efforts by conservationists in the field who are working to reverse the decline of lions in the wild. The LRF will assess and deploy funding to the best ideas for lion recovery and habitat restoration. Uniquely, 100% of every dollar raised will go directly to the partners in the field with zero administrative fees or overhead.
Startup and ongoing support for the Lion Recovery Fund has been provided by the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation which is committed to conserving wildlife and wildlands across the planet. “With the population of Africa expected to double by 2050, this is an opportunity to show the world that development does not have to come at the expense of wild landscapes and species. Humans and the natural world can coexist and thrive,” said Justin Winters, Executive Director of the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation.
Leonardo DiCaprio underlined his support for the Lion Recovery Fund, and encouraged the public to get involved. “We’re losing our planet’s wildlife – even such iconic species as the African Lion – at a dangerously rapid pace. An astonishingly small amount of philanthropic dollars go towards protecting wildlife, but together we can turn that around.” said DiCaprio. “The Lion Recovery Fund ensures that your generosity goes to the most effective efforts on the ground to protect African lions and restore their habitat.”
“The loss of lions represents the unraveling of the fabric of Africa’s ecology and economies. Their recovery can help restore both,” said Jeffrey “Jefe” Parrish, Vice President for Conservation at the Wildlife Conservation Network. “Bringing lions back will require the best efforts of all, working collaboratively – from conservation organizations large and small, to governments, to the donor community, to every individual citizen who has ever admired a lion in the wild, in stories, or on a logo. The Lion Recovery Fund exists to channel that concern, passion and generosity and guide financial support to the best efforts to bring them back.”
Habitat loss to agriculture, encroachment of wild lands by people and livestock, poaching of lion prey and human-wildlife conflict are the main factors that have caused lions to disappear from 80 to 90 percent of their former range. More than 26 countries have already lost their lion populations and without action, lions may disappear from many of their remaining strongholds. As a keystone species, the loss of the lion would have a severe impact on Africa’s wildlife and ecosystems, and would trigger enormous ramifications on the continent’s $34 billion ecotourism industry.
While these challenges are great, the pathway to lion recovery is remarkably simple. Conservationists estimate that if existing national parks and nature reserves were properly resourced and managed, and if their local communities were supported, Africa’s lion population could increase to three to four times its current size.
Such investments in parks and people are a priority for the Lion Recovery Fund. The LRF supports innovations in, and scaling of, on the ground conservation efforts to reduce human-lion conflict, enhance law enforcement and end bushmeat poaching in reserves, and secure the space lions need to roam and recover. It will also support campaigns that build the private, public, and philanthropic commitment for lion recovery.
As of today, the LRF has already allocated more than $800,000 to catalytic projects that are working to protecting lion habitat and address threats to key lion populations. These include efforts from partners such as:
●which, along with the surrounding protected area complex holds approximately 90% of West Africa’s lions. The grant will fund anti-poaching, improved communications for the management of the area and monitoring of lions and their threats.
●where, at best, only 20-30 lions remain, making them at dire risk of extinction in Senegal. With adequate protection, the park can one day hold a population of hundreds of lions. With the LRF grant, Panthera will establish infrastructure and purchase equipment for use in implementing anti-poaching law enforcement to protect lions and their prey in the area.
●who, in partnership with the Zambia Carnivore Programme and Zambia’s Department of National Parks and Wildlife, will investigate targeted poaching of lions for skins and other body parts in order to inform law enforcement strategies to better tackle this rapidly growing threat.