The National Geographic Big Cats Initiative has awarded a grant for lion research and conservation to Michigan State University’s (MSU) Snares to Wares Initiative in Uganda.
”This is very much a collaboration with National Geographic,” said Robert Montgomery, an associate professor in the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife and director of the Research on the Ecology of Carnivores and their Prey (RECaP) Laboratory. “They are interested in training the next generation of conservation leaders – that’s precisely what we do at MSU. They are interested in conserving populations of species such as lions for the future, and that’s exactly what we do.”
The Big Cats Initiative provides project support for people working on conservation projects in areas where big cats live. Initiative grantees have created novel solutions to help local communities and big cats coexist. Snares to Wares is a community-based project in Uganda’s Murchison Falls National Park that addresses both wildlife conservation and the improvement of human livelihood, repurposing wire snares intended for poaching and creating artwork for sale to support the artisans in the town of Pakwach.
Lion strongholds are defined as having 500 or more individuals inside a protected area. Although Uganda does not meet this threshold, there is still great interest in the lion population there.
“Right now, there’s a question about conservation triage, restricting efforts to focus on the most viable populations,” Montgomery said. “The Big Cat Initiative has demonstrated that these satellite populations are just as valuable, and that we need to conserve them as well in addition to these stronghold populations. That’s why I think there’s a lot of interest in Ugandan lions, in particular.”
National Geographic and MSU already have a strong relationship, with five students in the RECaP Laboratory currently receiving funding as National Geographic Explorers, Montgomery said. Those students have been invited to provide their perspectives in Explorer festivals and presentations around the world where his team.
“It will be great to provide us with opportunities to tell our story, opportunities to describe the depth of our contribution to student training and research informed conservation activities.”