Niassa National Reserve in Mozambique is one of the last great wild places on Earth, with its dramatic landscapes and wildlife populations remaining largely untouched. It is also one of the important remaining strongholds for the African lion. Lions have disappeared from 83% of their historical range on the continent, so every remaining viable habitat for these majestic big cats is crucial.
A growing human population of 35,000 in Niassa that needs food and income poses challenges to the reserve’s 1,000 lions. With few opportunities for education and employment, many families rely on the use of natural resources - particularly fish, skins, and bushmeat - to support their subsistence lifestyles. The greatest threat to lions in Niassa comes from snares that are set to capture bushmeat.
Niassa Lion Project (NLP), which combines scientific rigor with passion, empathy and sound management practices, is as much about people as it is about lions. The team aims to build a sustainable lion-friendly community by working closely with community members, reserve management and tourism operators. They consider everyone a participant in conservation.
"Hungry people cannot care about conservation."
- Dr. Colleen Begg
A Unique Conservation Approach
Education & Skills Training
To reduce snaring, NLP helps community members find alternative sources of income through practical skills training. Courses in subjects like construction, tourism and animal husbandry are held at the new Mariri Environmental and Skills Training Center. The Center’s first training program was held for the workers who were going to build it – they had never before held construction jobs but learned essential skills relevant to future employment.
Niassa Lion Project works closely with the local community on decision-making and provides members with tangible benefits for participating in conservation. At community meetings, villagers identify needs that Niassa Lion Project can support, including school classroom rehabilitation and the construction of a water tank for the village clinic. Niassa Lion Project views the community as a partner, even sharing management of the concession it was awarded by the government with the nearby Mbamba village.
Targeted research can determine the greatest threats for lions and potential solutions to these threats. Radio collars on lions have helped NLP determine that snares set for bushmeat are the major danger to lions, and that there is an increase in lion movement during the wet season which heightens the likelihood of lion attacks on human and livestock.
The approximate number of lions in Niassa in 2012, up from 700 in 2005
Community meetings attended by Niassa Lion Project in 2014
Dr. Colleen & Keith Begg
Keith and Colleen Begg met next to an elephant carcass in South Africa’s Kruger National Park more than twenty years ago and have been studying and protecting carnivores together ever since. Their first great love was the honey badger.
In 2002, Keith and Colleen set out across Africa on a 21,000 mile trek to find a place where they could make a real contribution to wildlife. When they arrived in Mozambique’s Niassa National Reserve, a place they had never heard of, they found their home. They climbed one of the mountains and sat there for days, seeing signs of both the abundance of and looming challenges for the Reserve's wildlife.
Keith and Colleen established Niassa Lion Project in 2003, and employ only local Mozambicans. They live in Niassa National Reserve for most of the year with their two children.
How You Can Help
$400 will buy a radio collar to keep track of lions near villages.
$2,800 pays to keep NLP moving around Niassa by funding vehicle repairs and tires for one year.
Donations of any amount can help support training courses at the new Skills Training Center.
When you designate your donation to a specific species, 100% of your donation will go directly to the field to support this species.
Wildlife Conservation Network works with field-based conservationists to create and support a network of like-minded individuals and wildlife lovers who are dedicated to saving animals. Together, connections are made and organizations grow into strong, sustainable groups.