The proposal Shai Hills Lion project
-The pros and cons
By: Godwin Yirenkyi
One of the most shocking news to come from the wildlife from in recent times was the disclosure that the lion population in Ghana is just 15 to 20. These are said to be found in three national parks namely, Mole, Bui and Digya all in the savannah grassland zone of northern Ghana.
That is why the start of consultations between the Ghana Wildlife Division (GWD), the Ministry of Tourism (TOM), traditional authorities and a consortium of wildlife experts, as reported in the Ghanaian Times (February 12, 2010, page 18), towards the implementation of a species management plan for lions in the country, including the introduction of the great cats in the Shai Hill Resource Reserve, offers a glimpse of hope for the endangered animals.
While the conservation status of many floral and faunal species is generally critical with some either endangered or threatened with extinction, the situation with the carnivorous species is often more serious not only because of the common threat like loss of habitat and poaching that affects every manner of wildlife, but also because of the erroneous perception that they are dangerous animals (though mosquitoes kill far more people every year than all the so-called “dangerous animals” put together) and therefore treat with contempt whenever they are found.
According to the plan which is to cover several phases spread over a nine-year period, lions will be bred in the reserve while locally declined or extinct species would also be restocked, all to increase the attraction value of the 50 sq. km. reserve which, by virtue of its close proximity to the Accra-Tema metropolitan zone, has the potential of attracting more visitors than has been the case.
Besides the lion (known as gyata in Akan), wildlife sources indicate that other cats that naturally occur in Ghana include the following (with their Akan names): leopard (osebo), tiger cat (bata kokoo or aduatia), forest genet (mokoro), and the genet cat (animifaa). The rest are the two spotted palm civet (abrebee) and the spotted hyena (pataku).
Information about all these animals, as with the herbivores, reptiles, birds, etc. is difficult to come by and also apart from dwindling numbers, many of them, being nocturnal, are rarely sighted. The wild or hunting dog (sakraman), for example, was once thought to be extinct until Raleigh International, a Youth Development Organization published a report in 2001 about the discovery of “a baby pub of the Ghanaian hunting dog which was “found and taken care of by the group” in the Gbele National Park in the upper West Region during one of their adventurous trips round the country.
The group which visited the hitherto unknown Polzen Waterfalls in Mole, also mentioned the sighting of “fresh lion prints while trekking in the Mole National Park as well as “the spotting of leopards” in the premier sanctuary.
The conservation status of lions all over Africa is critical with as few as 20,000 remaining, compared to about 450,000 fifty years ago.
An international emergency effort, known as the Big Cats Initiative-launched by the National Geographic Society is uniting governments, conservation groups, corporations, scientists, and local villages around the world to find ways of reversing big-cat declines and to restore populations to sustainable levels by 2015.
Meanwhile, in the case of Ghana one would ask why the project is not carried out in places where the lion occurs naturally like Mole, Bui and Digya but in the Shai Reserve which is not its natural habitat. The psychological effect of the presence of a top predator like the lion will have on the minds of people living in adjacent communities cannot be ruled out. No wonder the plan was bitterly criticized on the internet by many writers.
That is why measures should be put in place to assure the public against any mishap. For example, the several torn portions of the once completely fenced reserve will have to be put under high maintenance.
The next important question is about what the lions will eat, and whether their presence will not disturb the current population levels of antelopes including the kob, bushbuck and oribi as well as the baboons and other resident fauna of the reserve?
Lions as flagship species for tourism cannot be denied as in places like Kenya a single lion is said to have a viewing value of $0.5 million per annum.
Conservation education, employment opportunities for local people and increased revenue for the Wildlife Division through gate fees and other pack services are some of the advantages that the project can bring to the Shai Hills Resource Reserve whose attractions also include panoramic views from the 200m high rocky island as well as archaeological relics of early Shai settlers.
The idea to captive-breed lions helps to draw attention to the need to consider similar and perhaps, more simple and familiar breeding programs for other highly in demand but endangered species like antelopes and the long list of other highly endangered species especially the antelopes, before they get extinct in the country as happened in the not too distant past with the rhino, eland, wildebeest and ostrich.
The Ghanaian Times Page: 16 Saturday, October 23, 2010