Do Fences Really Make for Good Neighbors?

It is interesting that yesterday I was writing about the inventiveness of  a young Kenyan boy, and how his flashing light invention kept lions away from his families fenced in herd of cattle. Today I read a report published in the New York Times by James Gorman of a study by Dr. Craig Packer and 57 colleagues that concluded the best way to save the lions is to fence them in.

Joao Silva/The New York Times

There is no question that the lion population in Africa has taken quite a big hit. According to Dr. Packer lions in Africa have lost 75 percent of their range in the last 100 years, problems between people and lions have increased, and some populations suffer from genetic isolation. Panthera, a conservationist organization devoted to big cats, estimates that there are 30,000 lions in Africa today, down from 200,000 lions 100 years ago.

After 35 years of field research in the Serengeti plains, Craig Packer, director of the Lion Research Center at the University of Minnesota, has lost all patience with the romance of African wilderness. Fences, he says, are the only way to stop the precipitous and continuing decline in the number of African lions.

“Reality has to intrude,” he said. “Do you want to know the two most hated species in Africa, by a mile? Elephants and lions.” They destroy crops and livestock, he said, and sometimes, in the case of lions, actually eat people.

Dr. Packer’s goal is to save lions. Fencing them in, away from people and livestock, is the best way to do that, he believes, both for conservation and economics. He made that argument in a paper this month in Ecology Letters, along with 57 co-authors, including most of the top lion scientists and conservationists.

To be sure, not eveyone agrees with Dr. Packer that fencing is the best solution. it seems sad that things may come to this. Perhaps we need to get Richard Turere, the 13 year old Kenyan boy that I wrote about yesterday, involved and see If he can come up with a better solution.

The complete NY Times article can be found here.