Walk on wild side for lion conservation

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lions walk SUPPLIED Marnus Roodbol and Charmaine Joubert of Walking for Lions.

Pretoria - They walked and walked and walked. And then they walked some more. This is how Marnus Roodbol and Charmaine Joubert raised awareness for the plight of lions in Africa.

Roodbol, founder of the non-profit organisation Walking for Lions, and Joubert, a media liaison officer, walked 530km from Windhoek in Namibia, to Ghanzi in Botswana over two weeks last month.

They walked in an effort to “give back to the lions”.

“Our slogan is, ‘Don’t talk, just walk’. People are quick to talk, but they often do not go over to action,” Roodbol said about their campaign.

The group consisted of five dedicated walkers, including Roodbol and Joubert, while people from communities along the way joined in.

“It was tough. We had blisters, we were burnt, our feet were sore,” said Joubert.

lions walk 2 Members and volunteers of Walking for Lions on their recent walk from Windhoek, Namibia to Ghanzi, Botswana. Pictures: Etienne Creux INDEPENDENT NEWSPAPERS

The group took turns walking – like a relay – and each person walked 30km every day.

“Sometimes one of us was injured and then others had to walk further in a day,” Roodbol said.

Every day, Roodbol and Joubert took videos and pictures about different topics related to lions that they posted on their Facebook page.

“We reached more than 100 000 people, but we would like to reach even more,” said Roodbol.

Fred Kabur, a toy lion, was taken along on the walk as their mascot.

“He is a symbol of carrying the weight of the lions on your shoulders,” Roodbol said.

Established last year, the idea for Walking for Lions came to Roodbol because he wanted to do a selfless act for lions.

Lions will be extinct in the wild in the next 15 years if their numbers keep decreasing at the same rate without intervention.

According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) the lion is classified as a vulnerable species. If their numbers decrease further, they will become an endangered species.

“The day we lose lions, humans have failed,” he said.

It is estimated there are fewer than 20 000 lions left in the wild, but Roodbol suspects it is far less because counting is not done regularly or accurately.

He has more than 10 years’ experience working with lions and plans to count as many lions in different areas as he can to gain accurate figures.

Walking for Lions, says Roodbol, aims to raise awareness of the plight of lions in Africa, the occurrence of “canned hunting”, and to educate people and provide solutions for the conflict between humans and lions.

“We want people to know what the situation is with lions at the moment, and accurate numbers and information are needed,” he said.

According to Joubert and Roodbol, there is a dark underworld of lion hunting which few people know about.

Lion bones were used in soups and wine, supposedly for their curative properties.

“People believe consuming lion bones will help them in some way, but it does nothing,” Joubert said.

Canned hunting had also become a popular way of attracting tourists to the country.

Canned hunting is the practice of raising game on breeding farms until they are mature enough to be killed for trophy collections.

“Tourists fly in, shoot the lions and fly back out. It’s like getting take-aways,” Roodbol said.

Joubert said this practice was not worth anything to the hunter because there was no thrill.

“People do not follow and track the lion for days and weeks before they manage to shoot it.

“It is not proper hunting and often the lions are drugged so they can be shot even faster,” she said.

Roodbol said the diminishing number of lions is also due to the fact that lions face many pressures in the wild.

Hunting figures and conflict between humans and lions have increased, but lion numbers have not increased accordingly.

Living space and habitats suitable for lions are decreasing because of human settlements and populations, and often farmers shoot lions that hunt their cattle.

“Lions pay because they attract tourists. Game reserves and breeding farms should give back to causes and communities to the benefit of lions,” Roodbol said.

Joubert and Roodbol gave up their jobs and salaries to spend all their time on their passion for Walking for Lions.

“I have not received a salary for 11 months,” Roodbol said, adding all the money he has goes into lion conservation.

Joubert shares the passion and has her own white lions in Limpopo.

Roodbol hopes to travel to neighbouring countries soon to count lions in various game reserves.

“We want to give solutions, not problems,” he said, adding they have various ways of counting lions accurately, including camera traps.

Roodbol maintains he is not the hero in this story, the lions are.

“They are the ultimate species. Lions do not earn respect, they demand it,” he said.

Visit www.walkingforlions.org or follow Walking for Lions on Facebook for more information. - Pretoria News

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