The Last Lioness

An extraordinary lioness known as Lady Liuwa who lived in Liuwa Plain National Park in Zambia, has passed away. She was discovered having died of natural causes on August 9, 2017 one day before World Lion Day, she was thought to be 17 years old. Lady Liuwa was well-known as the lioness who survived the odds as the last of her species in a place where every other single lion had been wiped out by hunting and poaching. She survived alone without a pride, seeking out human companionship in her profound loneliness. African Parks made several attempts to reintroduce other lions to the area beginning in 2007 and, after living for over 5 years without hearing or seeing another lion, Lady Liuwa finally had a chance of being with her own kind. Never able to have cubs of her own, she helped raise the many cubs from another reintroduced lioness named Sepo.

The story of her early years was told in the National Geographic documentary The Last Lioness.

Since the film was released other lions had been reintroduced back into the park but not without complications and loss. Despite the insurmountable odds Lady Liuwa survived, a true symbol of strength, courage, forgiveness and tolerance. Importantly she did not die alone and leaves an established pride that is a sign of hope for her species if humans are willing to work together to allow them to live as they should, wild and free from persecution. I believe that stories like this, and unique animals like Lady Liuwa, are not coincidences but rather a gift sent to impart a lesson for humans to learn and evolve from.

A touching tribute to this great lioness was posted by African National Parks, the full dedication Remembering Lady Liuwa can be read here.

“Lady Liuwa was a truly exceptional lioness, so much so that it is impossible to do justice to her in words” said Peter Fearnhead, CEO of African Parks. “Oftentimes she would lie just five meters away from our camp-fire in the middle of the park. When it came time to go to bed, she would follow, walking parallel to the path and then fall asleep in front of one of our tents. In the mornings, we would find her in a tree, just watching but never threatening us. After years of being solitary, and after several reintroduction’s and careful management, we were finally able to unite her with her own kind. While her passing saddens us all, she leaves behind a legacy of survival in the small but growing pride in Liuwa Plain”.

Tribute by Rob Reid, prior Park Manager of Liuwa Plain – “As you meander slowly over the crisp earth towards them you can always recognize Lady from a distance, the way she cocks her head to the side, waiting for you, expecting you; that’ll be Lady. And it was true; she didn’t look at you like a lion – there was none of that bone chilling stare, head held high, alert “through you” sort of look. She would give you a sort of gentle titled head view, a relaxed and familiar pose. A look that had seen it all, and been through thousands of nights of loneliness. But that look – the sharing of space, with you – an outsider; there was that…She was an anomaly, an orphan, that had somehow survived the odds of the harshness of the African bush. And although her entire pride had been wiped out by illegal hunting, she found friendship in humanity, and later with an adopted pride. She was a bridge perhaps between what should have been in our Eden and what we see so much around us today.”

Gorongosa Reborn

The National Geographic Live Lecture season will be soon be wrapping up in Toronto and so far the series has been great. Gorongosa Reborn: A Cameraman’s Journal with Emmy Award-winning natural history cinematographer Bob Poole, has been the one lecture I have been looking forward to most since the series line up was announced last year.

The lecture centers around Bob’s recent six-part PBS/Nat Geo International series ‘Gorongosa Park: Rebirth of Paradise’, in which he has documented the come back of Mozambique’s Gorongosa National Park.

Gorongosa has been referred to as one of Africa’s most treasured national parks that in its heyday was home to thousands of animals including some 6,000 elephants and about 500 Lions. Scores of people, including international celebrities, once flocked to the park to view its prolific wildlife up until civil war broke out in 1977. By the time the war ended, in 1992, the wildlife in the park had been all but wiped out, and what hadn’t been destroyed by the war trophy hunters managed to finish off. After the dust had settled in the mid-90’s, the park was surveyed again – they counted a mere 100 elephants. Almost all of the large grazers as well as the predators were gone from the landscape.

Thankfully things were set to turn around for the better, and the rehabilitation of the park officially began when the Gorongosa Restoration Project created a 20 year public-private partnership with the Government of Mozambique to jointly manage the park. Then in 2007 lions were photographed for the first time since 1960 at the ‘Lion House’, wildlife was very slowly and cautiously beginning to return.

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Originally built as a tourist camp on a floodplain, the ‘Lion House’ was abandoned due to flooding in the rainy season and later taken over by Lions who were often seen lounging on the roof– Photo by Whitney Leonard/Gorongosa.org

Bob Poole had already spent two years living and filming in Gorongosa and was eager to take on the PBS project, he tells Mother Nature Network that the experience fulfilled a life-long dream for him “I was able to combine my passion for animal conservation with my love of documentary filmmaking.” He goes on to say that Gorongosa is a prime example of what can be done and that is possible to reverse the damage humans have caused, that with effort, “nature can be saved.” A rather positive and hopeful message at a time when we are bombarded almost daily with much of the opposite.

Bob’s love of the park and enthusiasm for his work is infectious, his story telling and passion translates in person and on-screen for an informative and at times very entertaining presentation. It is guaranteed to leave you wanting more, if not determined to visit the park for yourself one day.

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Bob Poole films sunrise over the floodplain. Photo credit Gina Poole – Gorongosa.org

Gorongosa Reborn: A Cameraman’s Journal is for anyone who loves wildlife, Africa, conservation and the idea that people can come together to fix what was once broken if we choose. Among other things you can expect to hear about elephants who haven’t forgotten the war; species reintroduction and breeding programs; and of course the come back of the parks great predator – lions.

Having been very fortunate to visit Gorongosa the presentation brought back great memories, especially the excitement of being in the park knowing the history and seeing what was being done. In particular, it is was wonderful to hear a mention of one very special lioness called Tripod, who at 15 years old is still going strong.

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View of Tripods back leg where she lost part to a snare. Image © Tori Dileo

She lost part of one of her legs to snaring and managed not only to survive but to hunt, raise cubs and remain a vital and successful part of her pride. In a way her strength and resilience is very symbolic of Gorongosa and the parks potential for the future.

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Tripod resting and waiting for one of the males off to the side. – Image © Tori Dileo

While Gorongosa is a story of hope and transformation the park and its wildlife face threats from poaching and snaring; illegal mining and logging; human settlements inside the park; and, the potential of conflict caused by political instability. However even with these challenges, the good news is the park is currently open for business and by supporting tourism there you are helping the park, its restoration, local communities and wildlife. I hope to be able to go back again one day and would recommend it for anyone who is looking for a truly magical and unique place in Africa to visit.

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Meeting Bob Poole after the lecture at Toronto’s Roy Thomson Hall.

If the story of Gorongosa intrigues you be sure to check the National Geographic Events page to see when Gorongosa Reborn is coming to your city. For those in the U.S. you can catch the full episodes of Bob’s series ‘Gorongosa Park: Rebirth of Paradise’ online at PBS.

When Sharing is Not Caring

For anyone who lives in the USA – this is a very important wildlife Action Alert. I hope that you will take a few minutes to contact your Senator to ask them to oppose The SHARE Act or Sportsmen’s Heritage and Recreational Enhancement Act.

The SHARE Act (H.R.2406) revises a variety of existing programs to expand access to, and opportunities for, hunting, fishing, and recreational shooting. This is backed by the NRA as well as Safari Club International and will be devastating to already vulnerable wildlife. Among other things it will open up land to hunters where currently no hunting or trapping is allowed.

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The SHARE Act – When ‘Sharing is not Caring’

Animals 24/7 “The National Rifle Association, Safari Club International, and allied hunting industry lobbyists on February 26, 2016 advanced closer than ever before, in eight years of trying, to push through Congress an omnibus package of special favors for trophy hunters, pack hunters, ivory dealers, and users of lead ammunition…The SHARE Act provides enhanced access to public lands while limiting punitive regulations promoted by ‘animal rights’ extremists. The bill now heads to the U.S. Senate.”

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Elephants Family – Amboseli national park, south Kenya. – Image Benh LIEU SONG – Flickr

Marc Bekoff, professor emeritus of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Colorado, writes in the Huffington Post that the “SHARE Act is not at all about sharing or any sort of peaceful coexistence, but rather about killing an increasing number of nonhuman animals (animals) in places where they should be and have been relatively safe, namely, on public lands. The Act also allows the use of traditional ammunition, containing lead, which of course is bad for the environment.”

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“Why is protecting animals ‘extreme,’ while wanting to kill them is not?” – Marc Bekoff

Marc Bekoff goes on to say that enjoying the great outdoors does not need to involve killing and there has to be some areas where “animals can live in peace and safety and where people who frequent these areas can also enjoy nature in peace and safety.”

The SHARE Act is a death sentence for countless animals and is bad for the environment.

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Image – Wikipedia

From the Animal Welfare Institute some of the provisions included in the bill:

  • Prevent the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of the Interior, and the Department of Agriculture from regulating lead—a potent and dangerous neurotoxin—in fishing tackle and ammunition. An estimated 10-20 million animals die from lead poisoning each year in the United States after ingesting lead shot, bullet fragments, and sport fishing waste.
  • Take the unprecedented step of defining trapping as a form of hunting. This would open up more federal lands to the setting of steel-jaw leghold traps and other body-gripping traps that pose grave risks to public safety, wildlife, and even companion animals.
  • Declare that millions of acres of public lands are automatically open to hunting and trapping without any scrutiny. Public land managers seeking to disallow these activities in order to protect wildlife, habitat, and the public would face huge bureaucratic hurdles.
  • Compel the National Park Service to allow private hunters to shoot bison in Grand Canyon National Park as part of its management plan.
  • Halt the US Fish and Wildlife Service’s efforts to protect elephants from poaching and to curb the demand for ivory.
  • Allow the importation of polar bear carcasses. This provision rewards hunters who raced to kill polar bears for trophies before their listing under the Endangered Species Act. Granting waivers such as this sets a dangerous precedent and signals to trophy hunters that they can flout the law.
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Polar Bear in Churchill Canada – Image Wikimedia Commons

There is still time and hope, please share with family and friends to help wildlife. Ask your Senator to oppose the SHARE Act today. Find and contact your U.S Senator HERE

For more on the SHARE Act please read “U.S. House Gives Stocking Full of Gifts to Most Extreme Factions of the Hunting Lobby

Big Cats in High Places

If you live in the UK you may have been lucky enough to catch the BBC2 Natural World documentary Mountain Lions: Big Cats in High Places. I had only ever seen clips of it but the full documentary is now available on Daily Motion, the previous version on YouTube had been taken down. Updated link below!

There is some special footage of Mountain Lion behavior that you most likely have never seen before and it clearly demonstrates that the myths surrounding these misunderstood and highly persecuted big cats are just myths. Importantly, the documentary shows just how tough the cats have it, nature is extreme and unforgiving even without mans interference, so ensuring we work to protect North America’s only big cat is important. Sadly, Mountain Lions are legally hunted throughout the USA and in two western provinces in Canada and, with all the other challenges they face sport hunting shouldn’t be one of them – It is cruel and extremely detrimental to the species overall. A documentary like this is important as it shows what these magnificent cats are truly like and why they deserve our protection just like the African Lion.

“The documentary follows two mountain mums in the Rockies of Wyoming as they struggle to raise their cubs – hunting, playing, eating and sometimes fighting”

Family Day

In honor of Family Day, which is a holiday here in Canada, I thought I’d share a few North American feline ‘family’ videos courtesy of strategically placed cameras. Camera traps are a great tool when it comes to giving us a glimpse into the lives of these amazing creatures who all have families of their own. Happy viewing!

Kittens gone wild via the CougarFund

Mountain Lion kittens! New Mom Limpy The Lion Returns! Via Parliament Of Owls

Bobcat mother and kitten walking silently on Fall leaves via lbretreat

Bobcat family on trail camera in Durham, NC via Piedmont Wildlife Center

The Cecil Factor

On Saturday February 6 the Worldwide Rally for Cecil took place with over 30 cities from around the world speaking out against trophy hunting. The main rally was held in Las Vegas to coincide with the world’s largest trophy hunting club, Safari Club International, which was hosting a 4 day “Ultimate Hunters’ Market”.

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The convention drew about 25,000 members with signs describing the event as the “THE BIGGEST THE BEST”. The Safari Club’s goal was to “auction off a total of 301 mammal hunts across more than 30 countries that will result in the killing of at least 600 animals, according to the Humane Society’s analysis of the convention’s listings. The targets include baboons, grizzly bears, cougars, African lions, coyotes, wolves, jackals and many other mammals.” – The Guardian

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Graphic The Guardian (Source: Humane Society International)

Toronto was one of the Canadian cities to host a rally to show support and to speak out against all forms of trophy hunting whether it’s Lions in Africa like Cecil, or wildlife here in North America. The purpose was to inform and educate people on the cruelty of trophy hunting as well as to encourage the changing of laws – in Toronto 650 signatures were gathered on a petition to ask our Government to help by banning the importation of hunting trophies coming in to Canada.

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Gathering signatures – Rally for Cecil – Toronto – Image Simi Vadgama Her Vegan Lenses

Participation in this event was important as Canada is connected to the trophy hunting industry by allowing sport hunted wildlife into the country and, by allowing hunting of its own wildlife for sport. While the USA is the largest importer of hunting trophies, a recent report released states that American hunters import an average of 126,000 animal trophies a year or 345 a day, many will be surprised to learn that Canada tops the list as the biggest source of trophies for our neighbors to the south. Our low dollar, easy access and list of coveted species like wolves, bear, moose and mountain lions, make Canada a one stop shop for American trophy hunters.

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Rally for Cecil – TorontoImage Simi Vadgama Her Vegan Lenses

As the main purpose of the rally was to draw attention to all types of trophy hunting, I opted to highlight Canada’s only big cat, the mountain lion or cougar, which is legally hunted in our two western provinces British Columbia and Alberta. The plight of these highly misunderstood and long persecuted cats has all but gone unnoticed and, in a report released in 2011 by the BC based Raincoast Conservation Foundation titled Cougars: BC’s neglected carnivore reveals that we are dramatically failing to protect them from all forms of mortality including trophy hunting.

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Numbers of cougars killed by humans due to legal hunting in BC have varied from 127 to 506 per year, and average 257 per year (1976-2008 BC Ministry of the Environment, unpublished data).

Hunting regulations in BC do little to avoid overexploitation of cougar populations. BC cougars are hunted for trophies with incomplete knowledge of population size and little control over the number and distribution of cougars that are killed. Although illegal to kill a mother when she is in the company of her kittens, killing a mother while she has left her kittens in the safety of a nursery or rendezvous site is legal.”Raincoast Conservation Foundation Cougars: BC’s neglected carnivore 

Out of the estimated 4000 cougars that live in Canada the largest remaining populations, an estimated 3500, reside in BC which has become the last strong hold for a big cat that once roamed from the west to east coast of Canada. Disappointingly the BC government who is responsible for their conservation has not yet made an effort to properly study or create strategies to protect them. Authors of the Raincoast study state that is a race against time with regards to saving the cougar and ask why trophy hunting of cougars is even allowed as it is not for sustenance, but simply for “sport or trophy”.

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Talking trophy hunting and mountain lionsImage Simi Vadgama Her Vegan Lenses

Interestingly, a joint report on newly compiled data was just released by the Humane Society of the United States and Humane Society International and, the analysis for a ten-year period revealed that the USA is the largest importer of foreign mountain lion trophies the majority of which were sourced from Canada.

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There are no borders when it comes to wildlife like mountain lions as we saw late last year when a GPS collard female mountain lion named Sandy, being studied by biologists, trekked 450 miles from BC to Montana only to be shot and killed by a hunter. Regardless of who is doing the killing, it is clear that both countries will need to do much better when it comes to protecting North America’s lions if they are to survive. Banning sport hunting of these magnificent cats would be a good first step in the right direction.

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The timing as the say has never been better and the ‘Cecil Factor’ has given all wildlife a voice like never before so I was thrilled to be able to participate in Saturday’s rally and help bring much-needed awareness to North America’s Lion. Overall it was a really positive day speaking with many supportive people not just from Toronto but from all over including:

  • Ireland
  • Los Angeles – which meant I got to talk a little about mountain lion P22
  • Saudi Arabia
  • Alberta and British Columbia – two individuals who had both seen mountain lions
  • Minnesota – a gentleman who had participated in protests at Walter Palmer’s dental office
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It is inspiring to know that the overwhelming majority of people, no matter where they were from, could agree on one thing – that killing wildlife for sport needs to stop. What we will lose is far too valuable for us to stand by and do nothing, so reminding ourselves that we are not alone in our fight will help on those days when we are confronted with the seemingly endless cruelty that is trophy hunting.

For more on North America’s Lion and Canada’s only big cat continue to check back and be sure to follow me on Facebok, Twitter, Instagram for more info and action alerts.

A thank you goes out to the California-based Mountain Lion Foundation for providing assistance with putting together information for the rally.

Winter Stroll

About a week ago I posted a clip of this video on Instagram but thought it was just too beautiful not to share in its entirety. It was taken in 2013 in Northern Ontario by YouTube user ReelEdgeProductions on a Sunday afternoon as they were BBQ’ing on their back deck. What a privilege to see these amazing cats causally taking a winter stroll through your backyard.

The Canada lynx (Lynx canadensis) is a medium-sized cat characterized by its long ear tufts, flared facial ruff, and short, bobbed tail with a black tip, unusually large paws that act like snowshoes in very deep snow, thick fur and long legs, and its hind legs are longer than its front legs. Lynx are generally found in moist, boreal forests that have cold, snowy winters and a high density of their favorite prey: the snowshoe hare. The southern portion of their range historically extended into the US into the northern Rocky Mountains/Cascades, southern Rockies, Great Lakes states and the Northeast.

Lynx mate during the winter and the females give birth once a year. Lynx ARE NOT considered species at risk in Canada and sadly are killed for their fur pelts, which occurs in 10 of 12 range provinces and territories (Northwest Territories, Yukon Territory, Nunavut, British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, and Newfoundland and Labrador). Lynx harvest is prohibited in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. Lynx were extirpated from Prince Edward Island in the late 1800s.

In the US they are listed under Endangered Species Act and can no longer be legally trapped in the lower 48 states. However, they have not fully recovered from population declines, and remain at serious risk. Primary sources of mortality to Lynx are starvation, predation, and human-related causes, as well as habitat loss to Boreal forests (this includes logging, road-building and high traffic volume, housing developments, resource extraction such as oil drilling and mining, and winter recreation).

Climate Change is also a threat as the deep snow, that Lynx have an advantage over other predators in, becomes less predictable.