• 66°

The power of a story: National Geographic explorer uses stories to save lions

SALISBURY — It was 2013 when Dr. Andrew Stein noticed that something was wrong in the Okavango Delta in northern Botswana.

Stein was a carnivore conservationist working in the region at the time when a colleague brought a long, drawn-out fight between the region’s lions and local people to his attention. In 2013 alone, more than 50 percent of the region’s lions had been killed — most by poison.

“We find the carcasses because they’re normally surrounded by 18 to 20 dead vultures,” Stein told a crowd Monday night at the Center for the Environment at Catawba.

Stein, an assistant professor at Landmark College and a National Geographic Explorer, laid out his years of work in Botswana working to preserve the Okavango’s lions through an unusual method: stories.

African lions have a long history of conflict with humans as the two bump territories and wrestle over livestock. In 2013, the poisonings — which wiped out lionesses, cubs, vultures, hyenas and elephants — followed a rash of livestock deaths to the jaws of the big cats.

“So it’s really this kind of retaliation,” Stein said.

He and others who cared for the tenuous future of the species tried speaking to local villagers, reminding them of laws and threatening punitive action. But the appeals fell on deaf ears.

“We cannot live with lions,” one villager went so far as to say.

It was a reply that got Stein thinking. Everywhere he went, people blamed the lions — leveling the crimes of a few individuals against the entire species. And Stein got an idea: Could a story save the African lion?

Like people, lions are individuals. They have their own territories, mannerisms and preferences.

“Some lions are shy, some are curious, some are aggressive — and some avoid livestock altogether,” Stein said.

So he began a campaign to introduce people to the individual lions who roamed their backyards. Stein called the initiative “Pride in Our Prides,” and over the next several years he set about fitting local lions with satellite collars.

When he knew which lions frequented which villages, he asked residents to name their local lions. And they took to it with a passion. The more Stein learned about each lion, the more he shared with locals.

With the use of satellite technology and the ubiquitousness of cellphones — even in the depths of Botswana — Stein and his group are able to tell when a specific lion is heading into human territory. When that happens, a text-message alert is sent out to the village, telling them to take precautions with their livestock.

Since Stein started the project, the poisonings and killings have dropped sharply, and he sees villagers using alternate methods of preserving livestock — such as penning them at night and building fires.

“There hasn’t been a single case of poisoning since we started,” Stein said.

Now when members of Stein’s crew drive by, residents flag them down. They ask about the lions by name, wanting to know how healthy they are, how their cubs are doing or if there are any recent photos of them.

As the program continues to expand, Stein’s group works to help locals build enforced corrals, employ herders to watch after livestock and grow increasingly familiar with their maned neighbors. Because once a person understands something, it’s no longer something to fear.

Contact reporter Rebecca Rider at 704-797-4264. 

Comments

News

Catawba College hosts three in-person commencement ceremonies

Local

With high case loads causing numerous staff departures, Child Protective Services seeks more positions

Education

Livingstone College graduates celebrate ‘crossing the finish line’ during commencement celebration

Coronavirus

Rowan sees 4 new COVID-19 deaths as mask mandate lifted, vaccines administered continue decline

Local

Spencer is latest town updating its development ordinance

Local

Salisbury native Kristy Woodson Harvey makes NY Times bestseller list

Local

Board of Commissioners will convene for third time in May

Business

Biz Roundup: Salisbury, Kannapolis among recipients of Region of Excellence Awards

Local

Cheerleading team competes at Disney

Education

Salisbury High to celebrate football, swimming champions with parade

High School

High school girls soccer: Isley, Webb lead all-county team

Local

Spencer awarded $10,000 to develop trails at Stanback Forest

Books

‘Tails and Tales’ coming to library this summer

Local

Public Records: March Deeds

Entertainment

Salisbury Symphony’s ‘Return to the Concert Hall’ available May 24-31

Coronavirus

Salisbury teen becomes one of first in age group to receive COVID-19 vaccine

Business

Local farm and creamery poised to add goat yoga, artisan goat cheese to offerings

Local

Pandemic’s impact, uncertainty of transit funding prompt request to eliminate Rowan Express service

Lifestyle

New Waterworks’ exhibit opens June 1

High School

High school football: Walsh accepts the South football challenge

Lifestyle

Price of Freedom Museum gets donated landscape project

Lifestyle

Rowan Museum will have Upscale Yard Sale Saturday

Business

Seventh dragon boat festival set for July 24; deadline for sponsorships is May 28

Nation/World

‘Shocking and horrifying’: Israel destroys AP office in Gaza