When a King sheds tears, an entire country weeps. These words underscore the plight of Benin’s environmental kingdom. The West African lion has roamed Benin’s rugged terrain since the days of the Dahomey Kingdom centuries ago. But its iconic roar has been stifled so much that West African lions are now classified as regionally endangered. Although this is symptomatic of the lion’s perilous situation in Africa as a whole, the situation in West Africa is particularly dire.
Tucked away in Benin’s north-western region is Pendjari Biosphere Reserve, whose size of 4,510 square kilometres makes it bigger than Cape Verde. The reserve comprises of one National Park, two Hunting Zones and a buffer zone.
The reserve’s mammoth size has given the lion a large area to race and hunt. However, the hunter sometimes becomes the hunted both legally and illegally. Every two years, six lions can be legally hunted in Pendjari. While Burkina Fasso’s quota is more at twenty lions, Niger doesn’t allow any hunting at all.
Although there is no clear evidence that legal hunting contributes to the lions’ woes, it doesn’t help things either. It is a fact that hunting subtracts instead of adding and can arguably be used to control burgeoning populations of a given species. The question therefore is – does the West African lion need addition or subtraction?
Etotépé A. Sogbohossou from Benin has conducted extensive research on Benin’s lions. In one of her findings, she concludes, ‘our results suggest that the Pendjari lion population is affected by perturbations, such as trophy hunting.’ Indeed, the kings of the jungle in this region have already become lonely creatures with densities of only five lions for every 100 kilometres.
When it comes to poaching, information about its extent and impact remains hazy. Unlike poaching, climate change is leaving clear impacts in its destructive trail. The Pendjari River, after which the biosphere is named, has seen better days. Although it can flood during rainy seasons, its waters dwindle drastically during the dry period of February to May.
When climate change pushes natural seasons to extremes, both humans and wildlife are adversely affected. Lions and their cat cousins stroll to the banks of River Pendjari and find speedily receding waters.
Another lion pride may respond to its thirst by jogging to other water points in the reserve like Bori, only to find that they have dried up. When this happens, their disappointed roars are stinging indictments of nations like USA and China two of the biggest green house gas emitters in the world. When their emissions accelerate a changing climate that denies Pendjari’s lions sufficient water, then there is a big problem.
A local source of tears for Benin’s lions comes from their nomadic human neighbours who graze their livestock in the biosphere. Apart from increasing competition for dwindling natural resources like water, encroaching livestock also heighten the possibility of deadly human-wildlife conflicts.
Benin has nonetheless made commendable strides. Elephant population increased from 900 in 2003 to 1,600 in 2006. Antelopes had an even bigger party, exploding from 2,000 in the year 2,000 to 9,000 in the year 2005.
This antelope multiplication means more food and less tears for the lions. This is a trend that must be maintained and extended beyond the food arena so that lions can quench their thirst from plenteous water and roam freely without the danger of meeting a poacher’s bullet or even a legal hunter’s bullet that nonetheless takes away its life.