Humans and Lions: Conflict, Conservation and Coexistence

Book Review:Humans and Lions – Conflict, Conservation and Coexistence

Keith Somerville’s remarkable book offers pragmatic solutions to lion conservation. 

Humans and Lions: Conflict, Conservation and Coexistence. Routledge Environmental Humanities; Paperbound: 260 pages, 6.1 by 9.2 inches (15×23 cm), ISBN-10: 1138558036; ISBN-13: 978-1138558038. $46.95, £34.99 from Barnes & Noble, Amazon, etc.

Prof. Keith Somerville’s latest book traces man’s relationship with lions through history—from early hominids to the Roman empire, through Africa’s colonial occupation and independence, to contemporary conservation politics. It is a coherent, evidence-based assessment of the human-lion experience, and thus a detailed history of conflict that ultimately stems from two related developments: declining lion numbers and increasing human numbers.

As human populations in Africa surge, the ever-increasing demands on land threaten the future of lions. Somerville explores the daunting task of conserving lions in the wild. This includes the valiant efforts of a handful of conservationists to reverse lion population decline amid rural poverty, and mitigate situations where human lives and livestock are threatened. At stake are the precarious livelihoods of communities that live among lions. The book also explores the positive aspects and negative consequences of lion hunting.

Somerville searches for the best forms of lion conservation in the current environmental crisis, exacerbated by the tension between Western animal-welfare concepts and sustainable use and development. He admits that, emotionally, lion hunting may be viewed as a contradiction, but concludes that science-based, regulated lion hunting does not endanger lion populations and can become part of the strategy to protect lions. This can be seen in Southern Africa, where lion numbers recently have grown.

To the future of lions in the wild, the main dangers are loss of habitat, the expansion of humans into lion country and bushmeat poaching, which depletes the prey base of lions. The best solution, Somerville writes, is to ensure that rural African communities benefit economically from coexisting with lions.

Keith Somerville, a former BBC News reporter, is an academic specializing in the politics and human aspects of African wildlife conservation at the Centre for Journalism of the Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology at the University of Kent. He is also a Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies and a Fellow of the Zoological Society of London.

These credentials guarantee that the book (with a foreword by David W. Macdonald, Director of WildCRU, University of Oxford) is not only of interest to students and scholars of environmental and African history, but also to anyone concerned with wildlife conservation, environmental management and political ecology—or simply the future of lions.

An afterthought: Readers who want to stay abreast of current conservation solutions and challenges in Africa should bookmark Keith Somerville’s blog Africa Sustainable Conservation News.

Gerhard R. Damm is the founder and editor-in-chief of Conservation Frontlines.