Surprise! Hungry lions are more likely to stray into human areas

Lions avoid human areas unless they’re under resource stress, according to a new study.

Lions avoided humans at more than two-thirds of the sites in the study – either by avoiding areas with a lot of human disturbance, or becoming more active at night.

The study is published in Communications Biology.

The researchers suggest that increasing environmental change could exacerbate lion-human conflicts.

“As apex predators, lions play a unique and important role in their ecosystems,” lead author Dr Kirby Mills, a conservation ecologist at the University of Michigan, US, tells Cosmos.

“But because humans have such a dominant impact on ecosystems, they can negatively impact lions more than most other species on the landscape.

“As human impacts on ecosystems expand, and as lions (and other large carnivores) have to share their landscapes with people, we have to understand how they adapt their behaviours to humans, [so we] safeguard both lion populations and human communities.”

The researchers analysed lion behavioural data from 31 different sites across Africa, representing 40% of lions’ contemporary range.

“We were surprised to see such wide variation in how lions responded to human disturbance,” says Mills.

“Some lion populations showed very strong avoidance of humans, while others seemed to favour using more disturbed areas.”

Sites with limited resources and more fragmented habitats were more likely to have lions that ventured into human areas.

“The environments and characteristics of the landscape can play a role in determining how different lion populations respond to humans,” says Mills.

Human impacts, and environmental change from climate warming, are straining lions across their range. This means that more lions might be driven into human-heavy areas to increase conflicts, according to the researchers.

“There will never be a one-size-fits-all solution to human-lion conflicts,” says Mills.

“What is most important is getting on the ground and finding solutions (probably a combination of many approaches) that work for the people being directly affected by conflict.

“We must strive to figure out how those communities can be empowered to safeguard their own livelihoods while balancing the conservation of biodiversity that supports ecosystems, using all of the tools at our disposal from ecological, social, and political sciences.”

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