A Terrible Trade-Off: Lion Numbers Are Growing Thanks to Elephant Poachers

Africa’s lions are benefiting from carcasses left behind by the slaughter of Mozambique’s elephants.
(Photo: Robert Muckle/Getty Images)
Jul 10, 2015· 1 MIN READ
Taylor Hill is an associate editor at TakePart covering environment and wildlife.

How could a glut of illegally killed elephants benefit wildlife?

For Africa’s lions, the carcasses discarded by ivory-seeking poachers—and the defenseless baby elephants left behind—are easy pickings. Those extra meals could be part of the reason the lion population is increasing in Mozambique’s Niassa National Reserve, conservationist Colleen Begg said Thursday.

Begg, who heads the Niassa Carnivore Project, told BBC News that the deaths of 6,000 to 7,000 elephants since 2011 have resulted in a large amount of previously unavailable meat for lions.

Without their tusked mothers to defend them, baby elephants have become food sources for lions as well.

“In 2009, we recorded our first calf eaten by lions, and this has also steadily increased, as these are orphans that are easy to catch,” she said.

The Niassa reserve is one of the few places in Africa where lions are increasing in number, from around 700 in 2005 to 1,100 by 2013. In the rest of the continent, lions are reeling. In the last 21 years, Africa’s lion population has fallen 42 percent, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

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The Niassa Carnivore Project points to other reasons for lions’ improvement in the park, including growing populations of other animals the predators hunt. The project has also introduced programs to educate villagers about the value of conserving lions instead of hunting them and has removed bushmeat snares in the field.

So, Why Should You Care? Elephants in Mozambique are a different story. In just five years, the country’s elephant population has been nearly halved, from 20,000 to 10,300, owing to poaching. Worldwide, poachers are slaughtering more than 30,000 elephants annually—that toll could wipe out the wild population of the pachyderm within 20 years.

Scientists have identified the Niassa reserve as one of the top sources of illegal ivory. The tusks taken from poached elephants sustain demand in Asia, where ivory trinkets and traditional medicines bring in billions of dollars on the black market.

Begg told BBC News the lion and elephant link was hard to prove definitively because there are so many variables, “but we are happy with saying it is related. How could it not have benefited the lions, hyenas, and vultures?”