Julie Scardina, Animal Ambassador for SeaWorld, Busch Gardens and Discovery Cove, has been to every continent visiting the various projects supported through the SeaWorld Busch Gardens Conservation Fund. She took time out of her busy schedule for an interview. This is the first in a series of articles on projects funded by the SWBGCF.
Close your eyes and think of Africa. Think of the animals roaming… the orange hues of the setting sun… magnificent beasts waiting to pounce. No doubt in your mind you imagined a lion stalking his prey, crouching, waiting. Maybe you pictured one sleeping lazily with cubs nearby, adorable, and yet formidable. The lion, proud, powerful, elegant… the very symbol of a continent. And yet, according to The Ewaso Lions project, they may be extinct in Kenya in 20 years. Today, a mere 2,000 lions live in Kenya with only 40,000 in all of Africa.
“The African lion population has declined by 30-50% in the past 20 years
and lions have disappeared from at least 83% of their historical range in Africa.”¹
There are many reasons the lion population is decreasing: loss of habitat, conflict issues, and even trophy hunting take their toll, as does population growth and, with it, increased numbers of cattle.
To accurately assess how serious the problem is, and to help stop the lion population decline, the Ewaso Lions Project² was founded in 2007 by Shivani Bhalla, a Kenyan national who worked previously with the Save the Elephants foundation in Samburu.
Julie Scardina and Shivani Bhalla venture to the Samburu Reserve
Julie Scardina has visited Shivani Bhalla and her team, at the Ewaso Lion project. They are “collaring and measuring the lions,” says Scardina, “and finding out the areas where they roam and where they live to find out what they need, specifically, in order to increase their population.” Identifying human/animal clashes is another important mission of the project.
Shivani Bhalla takes local children, many of whom who have NEVER seen a lion, on photo safaris as part of the Ewaso Lion education program. Photo courtesy Ewaso Lions
Education is key in avoiding and reducing conflict, Scardina emphasizes. The project “helps create more awareness about the benefits of having predators in the landscape… that having wildlife, in general, helps an environment and an ecosystem to thrive.” This idea is contrary to what many believe. Some see the wild animals as competing with their livestock and a threat to their way of life. “In reality the ecosystem is healthier” when each level of the food chain is present.
Without predators, there is no culling of the weak, injured, sick and old members of the prey population. Adds Julie, “If it’s not the strongest breeding, you’re breeding a weaker species which isn’t going to be able to compete with other—even grazers—in the future.”
Photo courtesy Ewaso Lions
To help educate the community, Bhalla employs mostly local scouts including Samburu warriors from the area. These tribesmen have learned how to use GPS and other tracking devices, as well as using “camera traps” and keeping notes on animal activity.
People in this region are responding to the message of conservation. Young men who previously killed wildlife are now passionate supporters since learning the integral connection between them and their native land.
Samburu Warriors did not, at first, understand how conservation would benefit them. Now they protect wildlife in the bush. Photo courtesy Ewaso Lions
The message to the locals is, “they need not fear or dislike lions,” says Scardina, “they have true value… and are part of their heritage and their history, and ultimately their future. Lions represent the strength, and the bravery, and the courage of their warriors. They learn that they can protect their prized possessions [cattle] and keep their loved ones safe. It is, in a way, harder in the short run to live with predators in your area, but they realize in the long run… if they didn’t help and participate… that it would be a very different future for their community and for their children.”
Click here to see a video highlighting the Ewaso Lion Project.
The next time you are at one of the SeaWorld Parks, consider donating to the SeaWorld Busch Bardens Conservation Fund, or click on the link on this page. All money, one hundred percent, goes to partners in the field.
¹Ewaso Lion Project, website.
² For the past few years, funded in part by a grant made possible through contributions to the SeaWorld Busch Gardens Conservation Fund.