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Reintroduction & Rewilding

India Sanju Offline
( This post was last modified: 05-02-2019, 10:52 PM by Sanju )

How the world’s largest lion relocation was pulled off

To bring lions back to central Mozambique, logistics ranged from providing safe transport to blessings from the spirit world.

*This image is copyright of its original author

Zambezi Delta, MozambiqueThere was once a peaceful hunting community called the Thozo, living in the lush, wildlife-rich wetlands of central Mozambique. Beyond their village, great herds of buffalo thrived in the swamps, elephants rumbled in the forests, and prides of lions hunted on the fringes of the floodplains.

The village was lead by a great chief, Galanguira—a hunter who loved the land because it provided for his family and community.

After years of civil war in Mozambique, lions were all but lost in the Zambezi Delta region. The introduction of 24 lions from South Africa in 2018 could grow the population to as many as 500 within 15 years. Already, six cubs have been born since the lions’ release.

Photographs by Ami Vitale, National Geographic

*This image is copyright of its original author

People in the village of Sosone, seen from above, have always lived alongside the wildlife of the Zambezi Delta. But apex predators, including lions, have been largely absent due to two decades of civil war.

*This image is copyright of its original author

Sosone villagers head to work in the early morning. With the reintroduction of lions to the region, they’ll need to change their routines to avoid encounters.

Photograph by Ami Vitale, National Geographic

One day, a large army from a neighboring tribe arrived. Twelve warriors with spears came to Galanguira’s house to kill him, while the rest of the army waited nearby. Galanguira fought like a warrior, defending his life and his village. He killed ten of the men. But he didn’t finish off the last two. Instead, he dropped his spear and raised his arm—exposing his heart—and told them to kill him. With one thrust of an enemy’s spear, Galanguira dropped to the floor.

The two triumphant men were about to leave when suddenly a magnificent lion rose out of Galanguira’s body and stood before them. Shocked and fearful, the men ran off to tell the rest of the army the about the supernatural animal and the powers of the Thozo people.

The army was never seen again.

*This image is copyright of its original author

Chief Jorge Tenente Thozo is part of a long line of chiefs in his community. On this day, his job is to meet with villagers to explain the proposed introduction of 24 lions to the area. It’s a sensitive issue, with concerns of village safety high on the agenda.

Photograph by Ami Vitale, National Geographic

“Galanguira’s spirit lion still lives near here, protecting us,” says Jorge Thozo, waving at the thick forest behind his house. He is the current chief of the Thozo community, and the great, great grandson of Chief Galanguira. Sitting on a wooden bench outside his small mud-brick house, he tells the story of his grandfather with such pride and enthusiasm that one can feel the meaning of the words even before they are translated from his scattered Portuguese.

Jorge can hardly remember the last time he saw a real lion.

When he was a child, numerous prides of lions roamed the game-rich wetlands of the Zambezi Delta. But their numbers were decimated when their prey was overhunted during the drawn-out Mozambican civil wars, which raged from 1977 to 1992. Across Africa, a similar decline is occurring, with wild lion numbers dropping 42 percent in the last two decades, mostly as a result of habitat loss.

In 2018, conservationists, landowners, donors, and the Mozambican government came up with an ambitious plan to add some two million acres to African lions’ range. They identified 24 healthy lions from reserves in South Africa and planned to relocate them to central Mozambique—the largest lion reintroduction ever attempted.

The lions’ proposed new home was the Marromeu Game Reserve—Chief Thozo’s backyard—where the local community subsists in the thick forests that fringe the Zambezi Delta floodplains.
With all the permits signed, partners on board, and the lions ready to go, all pieces were in place to make the ambitious project happen.
But one question remained: Would the spirit lions allow it?

A restoration story
There was very little wildlife in the Coutada 11 concession, in central Mozambique, when Mark Caldain, a South African hunter and one of the architects of the lion reintroduction, first arrived in 1995.

*This image is copyright of its original author

“I guess, when you are young and stupid, I looked at the place and said: ‘Jesus, this is my piece of Africa!’” He laughs loudly as we sit in the humid Beira airport, the springboard to the wildlife concessions of central Mozambique. “It was my first chance to actually own a concession. I think it was a heart thing. Because it didn't have a lot of game. It was as wild as it is now, but the big game had gone.”

In a spontaneous decision, Caldain bought the lease from a German owner who wanted nothing more to do with war-torn Mozambique. At the time, there were fewer than 44 sable antelope and perhaps a thousand buffalo on one million acres. The forests were full of snares and traps for small game species, and signs of civil war were everywhere.

“The brick walls that line our runway were chipped with bullets. Mortars,” Caldane says. “Back then, I didn't know how good it would get.”

Operating a single hunting lodge, Caldane dedicated much of his time and resources to helping the wildlife return by investing in anti-poaching measures, such as motorbike patrols and a team of scouts. “Animals gravitate towards the most ideal habitat and protection, and I think, just by absolute chance, it happened to my block,” he says. “They came in, and then we had to look after them.”

*This image is copyright of its original author

Zebras run through the Zambezi Delta.

*This image is copyright of its original author

A herd of buffalo thunders across the floodplain at sunrise. Because of the anti-poaching efforts implemented by Mark Caldaine and his team, buffalo numbers have increased from a thousand to 20,000 on his million-acre concession.

Photograph by Ami Vitale, National Geographic

Caldane takes me on a tour of the land in his helicopter. As we swing over the floodplain, the full scale of the wilderness comes into view. Striped throngs of zebra bound below among groups of red hartebeest and shaggy waterbuck. Reedbuck dance through the water. And then a scene of true African elegance: A herd of sable run in unison, their brown and white mains flowing like waves across heavy backs, and their iconic, sickle-shaped horns dancing on their heads.

“There are over 3,000 sable antelope on the concession today,” Caldain says over the chopper din. We circle over a big herd of buffalo—some 300 galloping through the reeds like combine harvesters. Today, he says, his block holds some 25,000 buffalo.
“All the animals have come back, virtually to capacity, with the only exception being the apex predators.”

The spirit lions
The Thozo believe that when you die, you can become a spirit lion.
“All of my ancestral spirits are lions,” says Jorge Thoza, the chief. “If I want to be a spirit lion, the witch doctor goes in the bush to get secret sticks, nobody really knows what they are, and they make medicine. If I take that medicine, I will turn into a lion when I die. As a spirit lion, I will stay here to watch over the people.”

Long before plans were made to re-introduce 24 lions into the area, Caldane and his partners on the project spent time with the community living in the concession. Some villagers are employed at his camp, but most rely on subsistence farming. How would they feel about having a potentially dangerous predator roaming the bush once again?

“Most of the conservation areas in Mozambique have people living on them,” says Samuel Bila, a veterinarian from the University of Maputo and a key partner in the project. “When we decided to bring back the lions in Marromeu, the people were concerned for their safety, so we had to consult them first.”
He says he was quite surprised and happy to hear that the community had such a deep spiritual connection to the lions. “The spirit lions are perhaps one of the reasons that they were happy with the proposal,” he says.

After a number of meetings with the community, the chief gave his personal blessing over the lions. But it did come with one warning: In the end, he said, it would not be up to him whether the lions would survive. That would be the decision of the spirit lions.

The plan
This was going to be the largest movement of wild lions across borders in history—24 in total.

*This image is copyright of its original author

The 24 lions, donated from reserves across South Africa, wait in boma in KwaZulu Natal before being flown to Mozambique. It’s the largest international transportation of wild lions ever attempted.

Photograph by Ami Vitale, National Geographic

“Many people said it's not possible; you can’t do that volume,” says Ivan Carter, a conservationist, hunter, and TV personality who founded the Ivan Carter Conservation Alliance. Finding and transporting that many healthy, disease-free lions would not be cheap or easy, and keeping track of the lions once on the ground would be a huge challenge. “But if you allow the naysayers to control your life,” he says, “you won't get anything done.”

Carter is a partner in the reintroduction project. A long-time funder of the anti-poaching efforts in the concession, he connected Mark Caldane with donors from the U.S., the Cabela family, who have helped to fund the project.

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The lions are sedated and marked with spray paint as identification in preparation for the flight from South Africa to Mozambique.

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Left: Lions’ eyes don’t close when they’re sedated, so they’re fitted with hoods to protect their eyes from the light. The hoods also helps keep them calm should the sedative start to wear off.
Right: The lions are flown in small groups to Mozambique.

*This image is copyright of its original author

Carter agrees that 24 lions is a lot to manage. “But that gives us a better chance of success,” he says. “By putting 18 females and six males into such a big area, you now can afford to lose a few in their normal, natural way of living.”

In order to keep the genetic mix as wide as possible, the team sourced the lions from various reserves in South Africa and kept them all in a boma in KwaZulu Natal’s Mkhuze Game Reserve for three weeks to complete medical tests. Then they were sedated and put in two private planes for the journey to Mozambique.

*This image is copyright of its original author

On August 5, 2018, a large crowd was gathered at the dusty airstrip in Marrameu Game Reserve as the planes touched down with their precious cargo. Many of the local villagers had never seen a lion before, and there were murmurs of both fear and excitement as the lions were offloaded. They were moved to a holding boma, and that’s when the ceremony began.
“We made a ceremony for my ancestors [the spirit lions] to introduce the lions,” says the chief, recounting the day the big cats arrived. The chief laid out various offerings in plastic cups—coke, beer, tobacco—for the spirit lions. If the spirits were unhappy, Jorge explains, they would kill the new lions. And if the lions were accepted, “we asked the spirit lions to protect the village, and to prevent the lions from biting anybody.”

"Perfect habitat for lions"
A hot, humid mist hangs over the floodplain as eight eyes watch us wearily from a nearby thicket of lala palms. We can see the tips of the lions’ ears flicking dew. One of the females rises and walks out of the thicket into the open, shaking the condensation from her body as if emerging from a morning sauna.

*This image is copyright of its original author

It’s been six months since the lions were released from the holding bomas. Vets and ecologists have spent the last few days darting, testing, and collaring the lions, and Caldain and Carter are happy with their condition and progress.

“You just have to look around and you can see this the perfect habitat for lions,” whispers Carter as we sit in his truck and watch the lions emerge. “They’ve got over two millions acres to explore. There’s a wealth of game here. You can’t drive for five minutes without seeing warthog, reedbuck, zebra, hartebeest. I can’t imagine what they don’t have here!”
Though the stress of the big relocation is over, Carter is not ready to relax just yet. “The next milestone is going to be when the cubs come out,” he says. “I’ll only relax and consider this successful when we can truly consider this place a stronghold for the wild African lion.”

These particular lions will never be hunted, says Carter. A proponent of the conservation benefits brought by hunters’ dollars, he says: “Some time in the future, if there’s 300 lions walking around here, and hunting three of them will sponsor your anti-poaching scouts for a year, why wouldn’t you? You hunt three lions out of 300, less than 1 percent, and suddenly you have paid for your scouts for over a year.”

*This image is copyright of its original author

Fifteen of the 24 lions wear tracking collars. There’s a good chance the prides will split up as they explore the new areas, so the collars allow ecologists to continuously monitor them.

With Mozambique’s war-torn history, Carter is certain that this wilderness and its animals would not exist if it were not for the few hunters who pass through the camp each year. And it’s been through careful off-take management that Caldane was able to build such a healthy population of animals while still running a hunting camp.
“A lot of hunting outfitters don't give a damn about anything other than profit, and their concessions are dying” says Carter. “But if you look at Mark’s investment in anti-poaching—it’s in the millions! The helicopters, the motorbikes, and anti-poaching teams are the foundation of the success of the reserve.”

As a vet, Samuel Bila says that hunting is not his first choice for conservation. However, “Mozambique needs income and to develop its conservation areas. Marrameu is a designated hunting area, and this can bring in profit and help with protection. Of course, we put strict laws and quotas in place based on numbers. But hunting is part of the utilisation of wildlife in Mozambique.”

Settling in
Six months after the introduction of lions, and the community is in good spirits.
“At first, the people were very scared,” says Thoza. “Now, people are not scared anymore. They know the lions are out there, but they are not aggressive.”
He says he’s not worried because his grandfather is protecting him and the villagers from the lions. He knows that if the lions attack a villager, the spirit lions will kill them.

We meet a younger man named Jon sitting beside the road with his kids climbing up and down his leg and hanging on his back. He speaks about his grandfather, a spirit lion. He says that when his grandfather was alive, he always promised that he would become a lion and remain there to protect them. Now, when Jon is out in the bush and feels scared or lost, he asks his grandfather for help, and he always receives it.
For the Thozo community, the spirit lion is a symbol of sacrifice, heroism, protection, legacy, and love of family. Chief Galanguira sacrificed his life for the people and the land, and he came back stronger.
As we head back to camp, filled with the stories of Galanguira and the spirit lions, Carter begins to talk about his own life path. What initially began as an ambitious career in guiding and TV, he says, has developed into a quest to make an impact. He created his NGO because he saw a need for frontline conservation work. He now helps fund various projects across Africa, including ambitious projects to save orphaned chimps in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and supporting giraffe conservation in Africa.
“You get so inspired when you do something that really matters,” he says. “I hope that one day this place will be a stronghold for the wild African lion. I hope they will be here long after I am gone.”
Just a few months after we left Mozambique, a lioness suddenly became pregnant, and later two more, ending up with six little cubs. Caldain sent me a message saying how excited they were to see cubs so soon, and suspects the father is a very old rogue male from Mozambique that he’s seen on only one occasion, and he presumed was dead.
“Perhaps he was a spirit lion,” I replied, with a wink.

Read more here:

@Rage2277 @Lycaon @smedz
When Need turns to Greed, our Extinction happens.
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United States smedz Offline
Regular Member

Cougar Reintroduction in Ohio    

Note: this is not currently happening, but I will email the information I gathered to the Ohio Division of Wildlife to try to convince them to at least consider bringing these big cats back to my home state. With that out of the way, let's get started.     

Many years ago, Ohio was full of large animals. These included White-tailed Deer (Odocoileus virginianus), elk (Cervus canadensis), Wild Turkey (Meleagris gallopavo), American Black Bears (Ursus americanus), Gray Wolves (Canis lupus), Canada Lynx (Lynx canadensis), Bobcats (Lynx rufus), Bison (Bison bison) and of course cougars, the cat with way too many names (Puma concolor). When the white man came along, they hunted all the animals to the point of extirpation. Now in the present, animals like the turkey are now plentiful again, bears and bobcats are making a comeback. While the wild has improved, our ecosystem is missing something vital. That would be an apex predator. I do not count black bears as true apex predators because while they are large, powerful, fast, and do eat meat, 95% of their diet is plant based. I also do not count human hunters as true apex predators because real apex predators don't need laws to make sure they don't kill off everything. I had a choice between the cougar and the wolf, and I have chosen the cougar due to it's better ability to live closer to people. Now to get deeper into detail. 

                                                                                                                                        Ecological Reasons    

When predators are taken out of an ecosystem, prey populations increase, and overbrowse or overgraze areas. Here in Ohio, the only native wild ungulate is the White-tailed Deer, and you better believe the deer are huge in numbers. In fact, the deer populations in state parks have grown to the point where hunters are allowed to go into them and kill deer to keep the population under control. Even the staff Cuyahoga Valley National Park have decided to allow the culling of deer in the park.  

So as you can see, we do have a deer population issue. With the return of the cougar, they will keep the number of deer in check in areas where hunters really shouldn't be allowed to hunt in. When it does come to population control, by keeping deer in check, they can help reduce deer and vehicle collisions. If cougars came back to the east or midwest, in 30 years, 155 deaths could be prevented and 21,000 injuries could also be prevented, and a single cougar could help save nearly $40,000 in associated costs. Another issue we have with deer in Ohio is Chronic Wasting Disease. Hunters in the state now must be wary to try to prevent harvesting a deer with the disease for obvious reasons. Cougars on the other hand are different, as they can eat the meat of diseased animals, but that of course, doesn't mean they could eat a deer with CWD. Can they though? Actually yes, in one study, cougars seem to selct for CWD infected mule deer since they were easier to catch and kill, and there is no evidence that this disease affects predators. So with the return of the cougar, the spread of the disease can be slowed down.     

When it does come to controlling the deer population, there is a huge difference between hunters and cougars. For example, sometimes a cougar that kills every 10-14 days can kill 20 deer a year and a cougar that kills every 10-18 days or a cougar with cubs that kills every 2-3 days can kill up to 52 deer a year (Mountain lion Foundation). An average deer hunter in Ohio only kills about 1-2 deer in a year (ODNR website). So having cougars is a much much much more effective way of keeping deer populations under control.     

One thing both hunters and farmers in Ohio have in common is that they hate coyotes. Luckily, cougars do include coyotes in their diet, one female even had a thing for coyote meat.    

Along with that, a recent study by Panthera on cougar interactions with other predators does confirm that cougars do dominate coyotes. 

*This image is copyright of its original author

In Ohio, we also have a population of Wild Boar, which are not native to North America at all. The goal is to get them out of the ecosystem, or at least get them under control. Research and camera traps confirm that cougars do include wild boar in their diet in the Davis Mountains in Texas and also Florida. I do have to say that they make up a small percentage of their diet in Texas, but the region that research was conducted in has lots of other wild big game, it's practically a buffet up there for them. Ohio doesn't have as many big game animals, so perhaps wild boar will be a bigger part of their diet here. 

*This image is copyright of its original author

Last but not least, a study has found that some areas in Ohio are now capable of supporting elk herds! As we all know, cougars prey on elk, and in this case, having a natural predator keep their numbers in check is going to be VERY important. 

.pdf   ProjectWapiti_FinalReport_PDF.pdf (Size: 2.84 MB / Downloads: 0)             

     Cougars also happen to be ecosystem engineers, their kills actually provide food and hokes for carrion dependent beetles, and they make more kills than other predators, which is more important to the ecosystem, and it increases the number of animal interactions, so they're essential to maintaining ecosystem resilience in. I'll put in this chart made by scientists that sums up this whole thing. 

*This image is copyright of its original author

For another point, tigers have proven to also be beneficial to people living in their home ranges, and experts have been learning lots of new things about cougars, so maybe perhaps cougars have an unknown way of benefitting people as well. (Check my post in the human interactions thread). Also, we do have American Burying Beetles in Ohio, which also need carrion for food and to raise their young, and they happen to be endangered in Ohio, and carrion availability may be one of the factors to allow these beetles to prosper. (ODNR website) So the return of the cougar can help with the recovery of the beetles as well. 


With cougars coming back, I believe that will help the economy, why? The answer is Eco-tourism! think about it, the animals people really want to see are big animals. With more large animals in the state, the better tourism can be, and tourism does make more money then hunting does. For example, in the Great Bear Rainforest in Canada, people spend 12 times as much money then trophy hunting. So the return of cougars and elk, can help the economy in this way. 

                                                                                                            Hunting and Conflict    

Not all people will be happy about cougars coming back. Those would be hunters and farmers. I will also try to convince the ODNR to not allow cougar hunting in Ohio. The reasons for this are that cougars are self-regulating, they are controlled by food availability (Predator Defense), and by each other since they're territorial, males kill cubs that aren't their own, and they will kill other cougars in fights. Cougars also don't decimate game populations like hunters claim. Both predator and prey have coexisted for millions of years, and predators kill the sick, weak, or wounded members of populations and therefore, making the game populations healthier and stronger. Hunting the dominant males ends up leaving unnatural numbers of juveniles because the territory is now available to them, and juveniles are the age group that is most associated with attacks on humans because unlike the adults, they haven't learned to avoid humans yet, so hunting only increases the odds of a person being attacked by a cougar. As for attacks, they are rare, only 25 deaths have been confirmed in 130 years. In fact, hunters seem to be more dangerous as approximately 1,000 people in North America are shot by hunters every year, 100 fatally (Predator Defense). Pretty ironic wouldn't you say? After listening to their excuses, I completely ignored hunters because they will make up any excuses to make sure that they don't have to share any of the game animals with predators. That's the way they are. Farmers on the other hand are a different story because they do depend on livestock. Also especially since Ohio happens to be one of the most agriculture happy places in the United States, I did have to take them into consideration. Since hunting cougars only brings bad, I looked into the non-lethal methods of protecting livestock from cougars. Here's the list, info from the Mountain Lion Foundation. 

1. Packs of guard dogs 
2. Confinement Shed lambing, kidding, and calving 
3. Fall birthing 
4. Multi-species stocking 
5. Aversive Conditioning 
6. Brush Clearing of trees and bushes within 1/4 mile of buildings and livestock concentrations
7. Fencing with fences over 12 ft tall, can be electric 

I will also suggest some changes to the law enforcement, like increasing the number of game wardens per county to try to prevent poaching.  Also here's the link to juvenile problem cougars.  

So there you have it, cougars have every right to live here in the Buckeye state, and hunters are not good sources of information on predators.
"Those who do what they must do are like fire, they fear nothing. Those who don't are like rabbits, for they have much to fear.
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Rage2277 Offline
animal enthusiast

At Mount Camdeboo we are driven by the desire to protect, manage and rehabilitate the natural resources of our region for long-term conservation and sustainable utilisation. Most recently, we have realised our long vision of rewilding the property with the introduction of lion and elephant onto the reserve - species which were historically indigenous to the Great Karoo region.

The relocation will aid increased biodiversity and goodwill of the animals and other wildlife in surrounding areas, and has enabled us to achieve an environment closer to what naturally occurred many, many years ago.

"ssshhh...listen to the rain"...
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