So the thing is I was born and raised in Botswana *find a map, find Africa look southward but above South Africa sandwiched between her and a couple of neighbours including but not limited to Zimbabwe and Namibia, yep that's us*, so when someone tells me we are losing lions I'm not sure what to do with that piece of information.
Logically I can understand that getting rid of a big predator would shift the dynamics of the local food chain drastically, but secretly if I'm honest I'm not sure how to prioritise challenges to the ecosystems on my day to day list of things to think about.
Beverly and Dereck Joubert are Botswana based film makers whose mission is conservation and understanding of large predators. They are also National Geographics' Explorers in Residence, a title they clearly take very seriously because they are not shooting their documentaries from afar nor is Beverly's impressive collection of what can only be termed photographic fine art photoshopped or cropped for effect - they live where the lions live. That of course is another thing most Batswana might not immediately get, I think the unspoken rule especially for Gaborone based city slickers such as I is 'get as far away as possible'. And for the farmers who live closest to these predators and other wildlife, I assume their primary concern is for their herds of cattle and farmland. The idea that 20 000 cats is considered a serious decline (from over a million 2000 years ago and about 450 000 fifty years ago) probably hasn't sunk in yet.
Even if you didn't know it then, you've seen the Joubert's 5 time Emmy award winning film productions over the years. Their latest, aptly titled The last-lions is a tale of adventure and intrigue to rival the best based-on-a-true-story hollywood has to offer, starring Ma di Tau(sic) a lioness willing to do anything to protect her bloodline, keeping her family together against the most incredible odds. Like most Batswana men my father is a lover of beasts, it matters not whether they be they cow or lion and I have inherited his apetite for watching them - as long as it is from the safety of my strategically placed living room couch. Whether this is because I'm generally squeamish or am not a farmer in Leroo-la-Tau, revenge killings, trophy hunting, hunting farms and that whole lions-are-the-enemy song and dance is not my cup of tea. From this privileged point of view I can better understand how the drastically declining population of big cats can and should be a worry. Some African countries and Botswana is no exception, rely heavily on low-impact/high-cost tourism (in short few visitor footprints and higher hotel gaming costs). While protecting the environment from geographical taxation, this distances the local population a little bit from these creatures. One might see them as troublesome, dangerous - this second adjective cannot convincingly be argued against- animals seemingly maintained for the joy of fat-pocketed binoculars wielding foreigners and in the name of a higher GDP.
The Jouberts and National Geographics' Big Cats initiative aims to halt the population decline by 2015 as well as to restore populations to sustainable numbers. You can do your part by applying for a grant for any number of intervention focused initiatives or by donating to the cause. Some folks who've already garnered the grants are running projects ranging from offering insurance to local farmers whose livestock has been killed by lions to those managing human and big cat conflict through securing livestock enclosures and offering conservation related education.
As I get older I begin to think of myself as part of a greater space, the universe I suppose, a bigger cause than just my next paycheck and my immediate family. The word legacy begins to take on a much more tangible urgency which is probably why I'm thinking about lions on a Saturday night.