Since the original Lion King movie was released in 1994, Africa has lost 50% of the lions across the continent! With the upcoming release of a new live-action Lion King, Disney has partnered with the Lion Recovery Fund to increase wild lion populations by 50% by 2050. It is an audacious goal to be sure, but an achievable one when considering all of the talented conservationists in the field who have shown success in their respective projects. To maximize this moment, Disney invited the world’s leading lion conservationists to Disney World to the Lion Footprint Forum with the goal of designing a conservation roadmap for restoring lion populations. Dr. Andrew Stein, our founder, was invited among the prestigious crowd to share the successes and challenges in Northern Botswana, a critical area for connectivity between the Okavango Delta and protected areas of Namibia, Zambia and Angola.
The first day of the forum was designed to discuss the gaps in our knowledge. Large range maps were hung throughout the room and regional experts made notes to ensure the best information was included. Second, we discussed non-geographic gaps such as local expertise, research needs and other challenges. During day two, the groups were sub-divided to create concrete projects to address these challenges. The group representing southern Africa took on the challenge of capacity building. With many of the participants coming from non-African countries, we asked ‘who will lead the next generation of lion conservationists?” We set a goal of doubling the number of local lion conservationists by 2025- another audacious goal for sure, but an important one. CLAWS has already taken major steps towards this goal by empowering a full field staff of Botswana citizens. Our field program leadership and project coordinators are all from Botswana and we are fortunate to have exceptionally talented and qualified individuals to lead us into the future, but this is not a time to be complacent, we hope to train future conservationists as well!
The event was not only unique for its location (Disney World), but lion conservationists had the opportunity to develop specific plans and present them to potential donors who were present in the room. Thank you Disney and Lion Recovery Fund for bringing us together to ensure the future of lions!