Watching wildlife got a lot wilder when lions made off with a Wildlife Protection Solutions (WPS) 360-degree GoPro camera at Thornybush Game Reserve, a wildlife reserve adjacent to the world-renowned Kruger National Park in northeastern South Africa. The recovered footage gives immersive, up-close views of savanna grasslands, and of the lions themselves—from the curious faces of cubs peering into the camera lens to the insides of an adult lion’s mouth. Did you take a look at those teeth? WPS was able to retrieve the camera intact, even though it was seriously chewed! We occasional lose cameras to wildlife but think this is a small price to pay for incredible views of animals and habitat that people might not otherwise get to see. We hope you agree!
Approximately 1600 lions roam free across Kruger, Thornybush, and other collectives that have opened their fences into Kruger. Elephant, rhinoceros, wild dog, and wildebeest are among the 145+ diverse species of wildlife that also live here. Covering more than 13,200 hectares in the Limpopo province, Thornybush is one of 20 reserves across South Africa that works with WPS to engage the public in wildlife conservation, and also thwart poaching. In the latter case, a different kind of state-of-the-art camera is deployed. Motion triggered cameras installed in undisclosed locations, coupled with a real-time monitoring system, provide an early warning for staff and anti-poaching units to danger in the bush.
The lion is Africa’s largest carnivore and ranks as one of the top five apex predators in the world—key species that keep the greater ecosystem in balance. Reduce or remove their numbers, and the stability of other animal populations suffers. Nearly 200,000 lions flourished in Africa as recently as a century ago. Lion poaching has dramatically decreased these numbers. The International Union of Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) estimates current numbers of African lions at 20,000 and decreasing. Unfortunately, poaching is increasing, including within Limpopo. Iron traps, wire snares, poison and gunshot are among the ways in which lions are cruelly killed—their bones, skin, paws, and other body parts sought and sold on the black market.
According to Corey Lockman, WPS Africa Program Director, there is a need for private reserves like Thornybush to introduce more robust security measures using technology to aid in anti-poaching efforts.
“We have seen a dramatic change in the last five years in reserves where boots-on-the-ground resources have increased,” Lockman said. “With the advancement of low bandwidth and power consumption technologies, we can now deploy cameras and other field sensors in remote locations. This allows technology to work hand-in-hand with ground approaches, which gives us the ability to monitor the welfare of species in the bush while also protecting anti-poaching units deployed in case of intrusions.”
Now that Thornybush has dropped its fences to Kruger, it is at an even greater risk of intrusions. Since 2015 WPS has donated field cameras, anti-poaching dogs, and ranger equipment to the reserve, and is in the process of integrating Earth Ranger for deployment there at the start of 2019. Thornybush surveillance cameras have since captured two poachers.
The reality of lion poaching is sobering, but thanks to the collaborative work of Wildlife Protection Solutions with reserves like Thornybush, the improvements are making a positive difference. At the same time, WPS is able to gather and share intimate footage of lions and other animals in their natural environment as they play, mate, hunt, rest … and eat our cameras. Supporting this work with a donation is one way that you, too, can help thwart poaching and support lion populations.
Tune in for more great footage from the field by subscribing to the WPS Youtube channel, including Carried Away By Lions. the recovered footage, and a similar video, Eaten By A Lion. Remember to play with the 360 controls to see all sides of the scene. Enjoy the “safari!”
Article by Julie West, WPS Communications Coordinator