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Good Fences Make Good (Large Animal) Neighbors

March 26, 2013

At least that’s what scientists working on lion conservation have concluded:

After 35 years of field research in the Serengeti plains, Craig Packer, director of the Lion Research Center at the University of Minnesota, has lost all patience with the romance of African wilderness. Fences, he says, are the only way to stop the precipitous and continuing decline in the number of African lions.

“Reality has to intrude,” he said. “Do you want to know the two most hated species in Africa, by a mile? Elephants and lions.” They destroy crops and livestock, he said, and sometimes, in the case of lions, actually eat people.

Dr. Packer’s goal is to save lions. Fencing them in, away from people and livestock, is the best way to do that, he believes, both for conservation and economics. He made that argument in a paper this month in Ecology Letters, along with 57 co-authors, including most of the top lion scientists and conservationists.

I am a romantic when it comes to the wild, but I agree that sometimes you have to be practical. And if fences will save lives all around, then it is hard to argue against them–though the cost estimates are daunting. And even if you could build all that fencing, is there anything to prevent humans from continuing to shrink the fenced area as populations continue to grow?

It would be interesting to try to compare the net benefit of investing tens, if not hundreds, of millions of dollars in fencing versus investing in education and technical training, say, which in turn helps reduce the poverty and desperation that often gets lions (and elephants) killed, slows population growth, and reduces reliance on livestock farming.


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