Vital funding provides perfect antidote to new poisoning threat facing Mozambique’s lions

The largest protected area in Mozambique and one of the largest in Africa, Niassa National Reserve covers an immense tract of wilderness roughly twice the size of Wales. It harbours 40% of Mozambique’s elephant population, and is one of the five most important areas for lion and wild dog in the entire continent.

Niassa faces severe threats from settlement and agricultural expansion, and has recently witnessed an exponential rise in illegal resource extraction and poaching, particularly for ivory. And now, a disturbing variation on the poaching theme has emerged: the burgeoning demand for lion body parts, purportedly driven by China and Southeast Asia, has given rise to several incidences of lion poisoning.

At the heart of Niassa lies Chuilexi Conservancy. This ‘reserve within a reserve’, established by Fauna & Flora International (FFI) and its local partners, is serving as a blueprint for the conservation management of the wider Niassa Reserve, demonstrating that people and wildlife can co-exist harmoniously through an imaginative conservation programme that aims to generate long-term benefits for local communities and the rich biodiversity on their doorstep.

Niassa National Reserve is one of the most important areas for wild dogs. Credit: Matt Rice.
Niassa National Reserve is one of the most important areas for wild dogs in Africa. Credit: Matt Rice.

FFI is working to develop tourism activities that provide sustainable revenue streams for Chuilexi, thereby encouraging greater tolerance of the presence of wildlife. With donor support, it is also focusing on strengthening security and anti-poaching measures to protect lions and other species at risk from this latest scourge.

A 50-strong scout force equipped with the latest radio communications technology is helping to boost anti-poaching measures through a concerted monitoring and law enforcement programme spanning the entire conservancy. These patrol teams routinely collect valuable data on lion and wild dog sightings, movements and behaviour, but their increased presence and wider coverage serve as a strong deterrent to would-be poachers.

Reserve staff have recorded wild dog packs containing up to 22 individuals in Chuilexi. Lion prides are typically in single figures, emphasising just how vulnerable these populations are to any further reduction in numbers.

Since four lions were found poisoned in a neighbouring concession on the border of Chuilexi late last year, no further cases of lion poisoning have been recorded in the immediate vicinity. Sadly, one lion was recently lost to snaring. As FFI Chief Executive Mark Rose was quick to acknowledge: “We need perpetual vigilance to safeguard lions, wild dogs and other species from traditional and emerging threats to their survival within and outside the reserve. The generous support that we receive for our activities in Chuilexi is vital to our continued success in this regard.”

The largest protected area in Mozambique and one of the largest in Africa is Niassa National Reserve. Credit: Mauro Pinto/FFI.
The largest protected area in Mozambique and one of the largest in Africa is Niassa National Reserve. Credit: Mauro Pinto/FFI.

Fauna & Flora International’s work to protect Chuilexi’s lion and wild dog populations receives vital support from Yorkshire Wildlife Park Foundation, and plays a pivotal role in an integrated conservation programme across the whole conservancy, which receives substantial funding from Fondation Segré and the UK government’s Illegal Wildlife Trade Challenge Fund, among others.

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