Making a Difference: Predators of Africa

lion guardian

A Lion Guardian takes measurements and attaches a tracking collar to a lion.

Hyenas and lions are two of the most recognized predators on the planet. Every year millions of people go on safari in Africa to see these predators. Millions more see them in documentaries on TV. Most people love lions, but hyenas have a bad reputation.

Since the early 1970s, Dr. Laurence Frank has been studying the predators of Africa in Kenya. By studying the behavior, interactions, and physiology of hyenas, he and other scientists have shown that hyenas don’t deserve their reputation. It turns out that hyenas are excellent hunters. Rather than being scavengers and stealing kills from lions, hyenas get almost all of their food by catching their own prey. Also, hyenas are highly social, cooperate with one another, and live in clans where females are the leaders. As top predators, both lions and hyenas are important in Africa. They help keep prey populations in check, including keeping large herbivores from overgrazing plants. But both lions and hyenas are in trouble. Seeing lions and hyenas disappearing from the places he worked caused Dr. Frank to focus his research on finding ways to protect these important predators. He is now the Director of the Living with Lions Project—a group of scientists and Maasai warriors working in nonprotected areas of Kenya to protect lions. Not only is it important to protect predators to ensure a healthy ecosystems, but “a world without lions would be a very sad place,” Dr. Frank has said.

Trouble in Africa
Because it is easy to see lions and hyenas in parks and on TV, most people think that they are thriving in Africa. Unfortunately, these predators are disappearing across the continent. Lion numbers in Africa have fallen quickly—from around 200,000 in the 1990s to less than 30,000 in 2011. Lions are no longer found in many rangeland areas that had lions in the early 1990s. Dr. Frank thinks that unless something is done quickly, lions may disappear from Kenya in 10 to 20 years!

There are several reasons that lions and other predators are in trouble. First, their habitat is being destroyed. Predators need to be able to roam huge areas to find enough prey, but much of their natural habitat is being destroyed or is being used for agriculture or raising livestock. In many places, livestock overgraze the plants and there is not enough food to support populations of prey for lions.

Although predators are doing well in some parks and nature reserves, most of these are not big enough to ensure their survival. The small populations of lions that live in these protected areas could easily be wiped out by disease. Also, to find enough prey, predators may have to leave the parks. When predators enter commercial ranches or community grazing lands, they come into conflict with people by killing livestock such as cattle, sheep, and goats.

Both commercial ranches and traditional herders (the Maasai) use the same methods to protect livestock. During the day, the Maasai watch over livestock and move them to areas where they can eat and drink. At night, they move the livestock to an enclosure made of thorn bushes (boma). The boma is meant to protect cattle from predators and from theft. Some lions, however, will hunt livestock at night by trying to scare them out of the boma.

When a lion kills livestock, the Maasai may hunt it down and kill it. Or the Maasai may poison the carcass. This will kill the lion when it comes back to finish its meal the next night. But this method also kills entire prides of lions, as well as hyenas, vultures, and other animals that eat the carcass. Dr. Frank and many other people are trying to find out how to solve the problems that are causing lions to disappear.

It Takes More Than a Village

Dr Laurence Frank

Dr. Laurence Frank has studied the predators of Africa for decades, and he is now working to save them through programs such as the Living with Lions Project.

Protecting predators isn’t easy and it isn’t all about science. Important factors include understanding how far predators range, how and why they kill livestock, and how people who have conflicts with lions can be encouraged to help save them.

To do this, the Living with Lions Project is finding ways that the Maasai and commercial ranches can benefit financially from keeping lions around. They are also working to reduce the number of livestock killed by lions and to educate people about the importance of predators and the troubles predators are‰ facing.

One member of the Living with Lions Project is Dr. Leela Hazzah. Dr. Hazzah is the founder of the Lion Guardians. Her idea was to try to convince Maasai warriors, who were renown lion killers, to become lion protectors. Now, Maasai warriors have found that lions can be a benefit because they bring tourism. With the help of graduate student and conservation biologist Stephanie Dolrenry, the Lion Guardians have identified every lion in 3500 km2 and have stopped all lion killing by the Maasai. As a result, the population is recovering!

Lions and other predators in Africa are still in trouble. But the work of many people, including Dr. Frank, Dr. Hazzah, the Maasai warriors, Stephanie Dolrenry, and Claus Mortensen, is building a blueprint for protecting them. With more hard work and dedicated people, scientists and community members hope these predators will someday thrive again all across Africa.


  1. Kristen Latham says

    It amazing how the hyenas and lion are totally different in Africa . Hyenas have high social skills and that how they are happy when they gathering food. Now Dr. Frank want to start developing a better way of separate an finding what best for the lions because without them it will be a sad place .

  2. Cathleen Randi Demouey says

    I think it is a interesting information for us to know about Lion and Hyenas. Both of them are popular to see in the Zoo, and we might need to know what is their environment.

  3. Kiley Westendick says

    I think that this story is interesting because i didn’t know lions and hyenas in Africa but lions in other places like united states. I think it is good that lions are being protect from many things because all of us probably like lions ,and they are also very popular in zoo and different places. I think think that lions and hyenas hate each other because they may fight over territories and hunt the same food.

  4. What do i think? Honestly, I think yay! the populationm is rising again. im glad they will build a blueprint for protecting these animals.

  5. Andy Underwood says

    i did read this one but i not understand some of sense. They need a help for food and animal to support health because animal try to destroy other animal. also we have bad environmental.

  6. Brittney Crawford says

    I enjoyed learning about the issues with African lions. I hope that the scientists and Earth’s citizens will all work together to support the lions and help them thrive again! They are beautiful creatures!

  7. I enjoyed learning about the issues with African lions

What Do You Think?