WCN teamed up with Disney to convene more than 80 leading conservation experts, the first meeting of its kind in 20 years, aimed at expanding collaboration to grow conservation impact for lions. It was a kickoff to The Lion King “Protect the Pride” campaign.
NOT A TYPICAL MEETING
Wildlife conservation is fascinating. It is a subject naturally infused with exotic animals, adventure and danger, heartbreaking and heartwarming situations. It’s exciting work, but not all important conservation actions occur in the field, sometimes they happen in more ordinary places—conferences, summits, forums and the like. While descriptions of conference room gatherings and small group break outs don’t typically jump off the page, there are always exceptions. Sometimes, over coffee and half scribbled notepads, people can actually change the world, and those meetings are worth reading about.
The Lion Footprint Forum, hosted by the Wildlife Conservation Network (WCN) and the Disney Conservation Fund, was such an event. In this case, the world-changing consequence at hand was saving Africa’s lions. In May 2019, more than 80 conservation leaders from 16 countries converged at Walt Disney World® Resort with a clear and meaningful goal: unite the lion conservation community around concrete solutions to recover lions across Africa.
THE FOOTPRINT MAP
Before diving into how this forum helps lions, we should clarify that the “lion conservation footprint” refers to the extent of lion conservation activities throughout Africa, where exactly these activities occur and to what degree. Before the Lion Footprint Forum, WCN hired a scientific consultant to map Africa’s lion conservation footprint. For six months he surveyed hundreds of experts, gaining insight into the status of Africa’s protected areas.
The result was a series of maps that accounted for different factors affecting lion populations, including: the condition of lions and their prey, what threats they face, what resources are available for management of protected areas, and where conservation organizations are present and active.
We opened the Lion Footprint Forum with these maps and used them as our touchstone throughout the three-day event. These maps revealed where lions were unprotected or under-protected, illuminating areas of concern as well as areas of potential. It was then up to the lion community to agree on how to expand the footprint.
DECLARATIONS TO RECOVER LIONS
Lions are in a crisis fueled by complex threats; they are killed in retaliation when lions prey on livestock, caught in snares set by bushmeat poachers, they are displaced by agriculture and hunted for the illegal wildlife trade. The loss of lions could be a death knell for many of Africa’s ecologies, economies, and cultural traditions. At the same time, the truth is that living with lions is not easy, and local people must benefit from their presence.
With numerous groups working on different aspects of lion conservation, messaging about this crisis and its impact has been fractured and often doesn’t reach people outside of conservation. This echo-chamber effect can hamper the cause because the lion’s story hasn’t reached the right audiences—political figures with the power to bring lion-friendly policies to life, donors who could fund lion conservation efforts, and the communities living near lions whose futures are tied to the fate of lions. Nothing will change for lions without support from these groups.
One of the more unexpected, and significant outcomes of the Lion Footprint Forum was that participants were able to establish declarations that all agree must be the focus of lion conservation. For the first time, the lion community will be sharing these messages in one voice, communicating their cause to the world.
- Stop the Loss of lions, their habitats, and their prey.
Given that we have lost half of the lions in Africa in just the past 25 years and the decline continues, conservationists and partners must work to stop this loss.
- Reduce the Cost borne by communities when living with lions.
Efforts to recover lions must also support the well-being of communities who bear the cost of living with lions such as loss of livestock and even human life.
- Unlock the Value associated with lions and their habitats.
We must emphasize the multiple economic, ecological, and cultural benefits that lions can bring to local communities and national economies, and make sure they are actualized so people will want to keep lions live.
IF YOU WANT TO GO FAST, GO ALONE. IF YOU WANT TO GO FAR, GO TOGETHER.
WCN believes everyone has a part to play in saving wildlife. We bring together people with different perspectives to work towards this common purpose. At the Lion Footprint Forum we were there to support conservationists and philanthropists, convening conservationists who are working across Africa to the same table to hash out ideas alongside companies like Disney, National Geographic, foundations, and philanthropists. We know we will only save lions by working together, to go the distance we must collaborate across industries and geographies.
Disney’s participation in hosting the Forum exemplified that saving lions isn’t something one group of conservationists can do alone. Conservation is a key focus area for Disney, and the Disney Conservation Fund provides grants every year to save wildlife, inspire action and protect the planet. Using its large global media footprint, Disney is committed to shining a light on the plight of African lions. The Lion Footprint Forum was made possible by Disney through funding of the event and provided travel support to get the right people in the room from all corners of Africa. The Forum served as the kickoff to the “Protect the Pride” campaign connected to this summer’s release of Disney’s groundbreaking, new The Lion King. Disney proved that a top household brand, a company known for entertainment and storytelling, can be a true conservation partner.
Beyond what the Lion Footprint Forum achieved, the mere existence of this meeting was a big deal. This was the first meeting to bring such a number of lion conservation groups together in 20 years. Lion conservationists can differ in their approaches and opinions. Getting these brilliant minds all under one roof and getting them to align on strategies to recover lions was an unprecedented feat. But, this is a crucial step if we are to overcome the threats that are pushing lions into rapid decline. Conservation is a “no time to waste” business and we must all start rowing in the same direction lest we succumb to the tidal wave of challenges in front of us.
The road to lion recovery is a long one, but we can get there by traveling it together. Thanks to the participation of the conservationists and philanthropists at the Lion Footprint Forum, we now have a roadmap to guide us towards a brighter future for Africa’s communities and lions.
“I have to admit to some trepidation upon being invited…something that was completely dispelled by your amazing WCN-LRF team, our incredible hosts, Disney, the awesome facilitators, an absolutely appropriate agenda and a humbling room full of passionate and knowledgeable conservationists, NGOs and donors. I left there very positive, very focused and truly grateful.”
Chap Masterson - Wild-Africa, Zimbabwe
"It was an extraordinary meeting and I leave feeling that real progress was made. I think you are all doing something very special and it aligns so closely with our values of collaboration and integrity that it is a breath of fresh air.”
Colleen Begg - Niassa Lion Project, Mozambique