National Geographic presenter Ben Britton gets to work with some of the world's rarest and most beautiful animals. Every day he strives to protect and conserve endangered species from habitat loss, poaching and disease. Today, National Geographic talks to him about working with lions.
What inspired you to work with animals?
Ever since I was a young boy I have been fascinated by animals, I loved watching the old Tarzan series growing up, and basically wanted to be Tarzan. The fact that he could share his life with animals and live in the jungle was very appealing. To this day that is a driving force behind the lifestyle I have created, to share my life with animals, I don’t see humans as separate to animals, I see us as simply part of the environment – we are just another species.
What is the biggest threat to lions today?
A number of factors. Habitat loss is the main threat, the growing human population and to a lesser extent poaching and snaring. If we can provide secure and safe environments and habitat for lions then like most species, they will go a long way to saving themselves; the problem is we don’t give them much of a chance.
What are you doing to help conserve big cats like lions?
For the last seven years, the Wild Animal Encounters Foundation has been working alongside the team at Mashatu Research to help better understand and conserve remaining lion populations in and around Mashatu Private Game Reserve in Botswana. A big part of this work is monitoring the movements of male lions in the area. Dr Andrei Snyman has been studying the geo-spatial movements of these cats to help create a framework for the ongoing conservation of lion habitat and populations in the area. The best method to monitor these cats is placing GPS satellite collars on the adult male lions.
Ben Britton and Dr Andrei Snyman at Mashatu Private Game Reserve in Botswana.
How do the collars work?
GPS tracking collars are placed around the necks of the lions. These collars then allow for remote detection of the animal's position which allows researchers to record the exact location and store the readings at pre-set intervals. These locations can then be logged, helping over time to create a framework of the lions movements within its environment, providing a baseline for data like home range size, daily movements, behavioural data and even diet.
What’s your closest encounter with a lion?
Well, when we are placing the collar on a lion we get very close. The lion needs to be anaesthetized so we can fit the collar safely and securely. The animal is darted and once it's asleep, we can begin to work on the lion, collecting as much information as possible including various body measurements, teeth measurements, collect blood and DNA. So we are very hands on and very close.
What’s something people may not know about lions?
A lot of people don’t realise that lions were once widespread across Europe, hence why they appear as a theme in cultures and continue to be an important symbol outside of Africa.
How can the public contribute to lion conservation?
There is a bunch of ways the public can get involved. Help raise funds to assist with the purchase of GPS collars or camera traps or join us on one of our research trips to Botswana. People can visit our website to find out more.
Lastly, what is your favourite big cat and why?
Clouded Leopard, a unique, beautiful and secretive species we don’t know much about. If you ever meet one, they will be your favourite too.
Ben Britton interviews National Geographic's big cat expert Steve Winter!