Conserving Lions in the Ishasha Valley:
Latest Updates on the Ongoing Project
A project is underway in Virunga National Park to monitor and protect lions in the Ishasha Valley. As strong and powerful apex predators, lions play a key role in maintaining ecosystem balance, naturally controlling populations of herbivores, such as buffalo, antelope and kob, and preying on the sick and weak to promote the health of herds.
Lions were once widespread throughout Sub-Saharan Africa, yet there are as few as 23,000 remaining in the wild today. Identifying, understanding and mitigating against the threats to lions are key for the survival of the species, leading Virunga National Park to enter into a multi-phase conservation project using different technology and approaches.
Camera Traps & Patrolling
In the Ishasha Valley, a series of camera traps have been installed by the lion monitoring team, allowing them to covertly monitor overall biodiversity, lions and threats to their survival, such as illegal poaching. The next rollout of cameras will have night-vision capability and be deployed in conjunction with frequent nocturnal patrols to detect and prevent wildlife crime in hotspots identified by the monitoring team.
Invasive Plant Species Management
Invasive plant species are an emerging problem for open African savannas, heavily impacting biodiversity by outcompeting native plantlife, leading to woodier savannas that are unsuitable for endemic species.
The invasive plant species have broad consequences, including the loss of land historically used as kob mating grounds and the reduction in overall prey biomass, impacting predators such as lions. In Virunga National Park, an intervention strategy has been formulated and is currently being implemented. The first step was to identify the most common non-native species, as well as their distribution. The current phase involves experimenting with invasive species elimination at test plots in order to create a standard model for maintaining a healthy savanna.
A total of 38 plots have been allocated for testing, each 50 sq m in area and containing at least one of the target invasive species. In early 2023, the monitoring team began working on 29 of these plots, testing different treatment methods and determining feasibility for wider application. The preliminary results demonstrate a disparity between the effects of treatment, with some plots providing positive results while invasive species in others demonstrate resistance to treatment. Given more time, the monitoring team is confident of finding the most reliable and cost-effective method for reducing and controlling invasive species.
Additional equipment procured thanks to proceeds from our Ishaha Valley lion campaign has been instrumental in efforts to monitor and protect lions in the Park’s savanna area.
Lions often travel vast distances in search of food and favorable conditions. Waterproof field bags, sleeping bags, portable mattresses, Ranger tents, portable power stations and monitoring scopes purchased thanks to public donations all play their part in helping Rangers keep track of lions, particularly in isolated and hostile areas where long field missions over difficult terrain are required.
The right equipment helps to ensure appropriate living and working conditions for our Rangers, as they dedicate themselves to the protection of lions. Specifically, waterproof bags ensure vital clothing and gear remain protected during the harsh rainy seasons and solar units provide energy for charging phones and radios while out in the field.
Thank You to Donors
Virunga National Park would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who donated to the Ishasha Valley lion appeal. Your generous contribution not only helps to protect these incredible big cats, but the well-being of the brave guardians who watch over them.