Genesis of Pride in Our Prides

Vulture found poisoned at a carcass in Northern Botswana. Photo credit: Richard Boltar

Vulture found poisoned at a carcass in Northern Botswana. Photo credit: Richard Boltar

The Pride In Our Prides project was begun when reports of lion poisoning began to surface in 2013.  Our colleague Vince Shacks was studying crocodiles in the region and he received disturbing photos from his collaborator Richard Boltar. Richard had discovered that villagers near Seronga in Northern Botswana had killed and poisoned their own livestock specifically to kill lions that predate on their livestock.  The results were devastating for the ecosystem as lions, spotted hyenas, jackals and over 60 vultures were killed.  Ironically, some of this poison likely could end up in the village water supply. Richard found the dead vultures, photographed them and made the story public.  It was clear that something needed to be done, and members of the community felt so desperate that they felt poisoning was the best option.

Poisoned cattle- later burned to keep other animals from feeding. Photo credit: Richard Boltar

Poisoned cattle- later burned to keep other animals from feeding. Photo credit: Richard Boltar

Unfortunately poison is not difficult to find and this is not an isolated story. Carbofuran, used in this case, is a highly toxic pesticide generally sold in bulk at local agricultural shops. It reaches the villages in small containers that can be doused on a carcass with tragic effects.

Lions are charismatic and command greater attention than other regional species and therefore we saw lions as the key to maintaining ecosystem health.

Lions from the adjacent wildlife concession.

Lions from the adjacent wildlife concession.

The issue as we saw it was not to march into the community and prosecute with wagging fingers. That would create an adversarial relationship and likely not stop the poisoning. Instead we wanted to create a situation where people did not feel the need to set poison in the first place. In order to do that people needed to feel safe and feel that their livestock were safe. In previous projects I have learned that people become more tolerant towards wildlife when they know more about population dynamics in their area and the individual animals that they share their space with. This does not replace the need for shared economic benefit, but it drives an understanding required for coexistence.  After nearly a year of planning and a Fulbright Scholarship for Eric LeFlore, we mobilized our team and headed to Seronga to set up the project. We worked closely with Vince and many of his contacts in the region to find a base camp, set up logistics for living and supply runs. I returned to the States after 2 weeks leaving Eric to find his way. Through Skype calls and multiple e-mails we found ways to get the things we need, set up meetings with village leaders and hire Pro our field assistant from Eretsha.  We look forward to providing updates on this project and the successes and challenges along the way.