Fences are not the best recipe for lion conservation writes a group of lion experts. Their research, published in Ecology Letters is a direct reaction publicity to an earlier controversial paper by Packer et al. that argued lions or – depending on the perspective – people should be fenced in order to conserve these felines.
“Fenced populations certainly play a role in lion conservation, but they are typically small in comparison to unfenced reserves, and they are managed intensively, with much larger operating budgets than unfenced reserves”, says lead author Scott Creel of Montana State University.
Creel’s study argues that the previous research looked only at lion densities ignoring the importance of total populations in protected areas. Most fenced lion areas contain high densities of lions—sometimes well-above carrying capacity—but small populations overall, while larger unfenced areas are home to the bulk of the world’s lions even if at lower densities.
“Clearly, a low-density population of 2000 individuals has more conservation value than a high- density population of 20. Consideration of this issue of scale alone weakens the argument for fencing”, the scientists write. They note that many of the fenced-in populations were intensively controlled with lions being moved in and out.
While Creel and co-authors admit that fenced reserves prevent lion-human conflict, a major
problem in many parts of Africa, they add that fences come with massive environmental costs, including increased habitat fragmentation, severing migration routes, and genetic isolation. In addition, standing fences can often be used to make snares, one of the largest threats to lions and other large African mammals. Download the whole study here.