From a purely game management perspective keeping lions adds no value, on the contrary lions are very expensive to keep because they have to eat the other assets. Luckily in today’s economy-driven world Lions do have a different value, a tourism value. Lions top the list of the iconic species that tourist visitors want to see.
Tourist visitors place a high value on sightings of beautiful males with big manes and of cute little cubs. This creates another lion management challenge: There cannot be too many cubs, and even if the numbers are contained through the natural order there will be male offspring that grow up and become subadult males. What to do with them is a key question?
Dinokeng Game Reserve was confronted with exactly this challenge. Despite successful management of the overall numbers of Lions (through selective contraception), the Reserve had to address the presence of too many young males that created two coalitions of two. In vast eco-systems nature would provide the solution: With sexual maturity young males would be forced out of the pride by the dominant male and would either make it on their own (or not), and eventually they would find a new territory for themselves.
In smaller reserves such as Dinokeng this natural regulation is not possible. The pressure on the sub-adults resulted in their need to try to escape form the Reserve. This could create a serious hazard for, and a dangerous risk to the adjoining neighbours of the reserve. We looked for acceptable new homes with a reputation of ethical management. . But there were no takers for subadult male lions – they are not yet attractive for tourism and they need to eat a lot of game.
Desperate situations require different thinking. If a new home for the youngsters could not be found, the chances were much greater that a new home could be found for our beautiful dominant male. Naturally there was some opposition to that thought – how can one think giving away a huge tourist attraction?
But there proved to be huge conservation merit with this idea:
He was the dominant male in the DGR for four years, in a huge open eco-system he would soon be coming to the end of his term naturally;
From a gene-pool management perspective we needed to prevent further breeding by this male.
Removing the dominant male would give the subadult coalitions a chance to grow to maturity. Later they would have a chance of finding a new home as strong, beautiful males too.
Fortunately, the Dinokeng Game Reserve is part of a Lion Management Forum (LiMF) where such ideas could be presented, evaluated and discussed.
And indeed, a new home was found where the Dinokeng male plays an important role.
But this is another story.