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 40,000 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, ivory, and bushmeat—to support their subsistence lifestyles. The greatest threat to lions in Niassa comes from snares that are set to capture bushmeat and a growing trade in lion skins, claws, and teeth.
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, government officials, reserve management team 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 threats to lions and all wildlife in Niassa Reserve, NLP helps community members understand conservation and find alternative sources of income through practical skills training and, environmental education. Courses in subjects like construction, handicrafts, beekeeping, animal husbandry, carpentry are held at the new Mariri Environmental Education and Skills Training Center. The Center’s first training program was held for the workers who were going to build it from the local community– they had never before held construction jobs but learned essential skills relevant to future employment. The Environmental Center hosts local children, adults, officials from communities across Niassa Reserve for conservation education bush visits. For many this is the first time they have been on a game drive and seen conservation in action.
Lions live with some of the world’s poorest people. Niassa Lion Project works closely with the local communites to partner in conservation and community development. NLP's goals are to reduce food insecurity and provide alternative livelihoods and income for people living inside Niassa Reserve as a benefit from conservation and lions. Their alternative livelihoods programs are active in five villages and include small livestock breeding, conservation agriculture, elephant beehive fences with honey production, and crafts groups. They have a team of 26 wildlife guardians working in 30 villages across Niassa Reserve to monitor lions and other special species, mortality and conflict, as well as act as the direct link between conservation programs and their communities. NLP also directly protect wild lands. They have the management lease for 550 square miles inside Niassa National Reserve that they manage in partnership with the seven villages that live inside the area. This area is of critical importance as a wildlife corridor.
Through ongoing simple monitoring NLP can assess whether they are being successful or not. They have wildlife guardians spread across 30 villages, conduct lion and hyaena surveys every three years, and have ongoing camera trapping programs to assess wildlife densities. They have implemented SMART inside Niassa Reserve to improve antipoaching efforts. Through radiocollars they monitor lion mortality and see if their combination of community outreach and antipoaching programs are working.
The approximate number of lions in Niassa in 2015, up from 700 in 2005
Local people directly employed by Niassa Lion Project
Number of households directly involved in livelihood ;programs
sq. miles directly managed in partnership with communities inside Niassa Reserve
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.
If you weren't able to make it to the 2017 Fall Wildlife Conservation Expo or if you missed any of the presentations, fear not! We've uploaded them all for your viewing pleasure.