In a turning point for lion conservation, WildCRU and Panthera unite lion programs with the appointment of Prof. Andrew Loveridge as a joint Lion Director

May 18, 2023

Uniting two of the world’s preeminent lion programs, Panthera, the global wild cat conservation organization, has appointed our Deputy Director, Andrew Loveridge, in a joint role as a Lion Program Director. A turning point for lion conservation, this  alliance spearheaded by Andrew expands the organizations’ reach: together we have supported work in 12 countries, including landscapes which cover 67% of lion range and around 70% of Africa’s remaining 24,000 lions.

Panthera President and Chief Executive Officer, Dr. Frederic Launay, stated, “With lion numbers declining across much of Africa, the need for interconnected and innovative conservation action between two of the world’s most dominant lion conservation players has never been greater. Bringing decades of on-the-ground experience, Andy maintains an exhaustive and real-world knowledge base of what it takes to truly save lions. We are thrilled to have him lead this strategic partnership – one that will undoubtedly strengthen collaboration and advance lion conservation across the continent.”

Born and raised in Zimbabwe, Andrew has shared that a key priority will be to continue building conservation leadership and capacity across lion landscapes, with a focus on empowering and increasing the number of Africans working in wildlife protection.

Andrew stated, “WildCRU and Panthera share the belief that effective conservation requires a deep-seated understanding of the dynamics of each lion population, including ecological and socio-political factors, as well as developing close working relationships with governments, wildlife authorities, and local NGOs and communities. There is no shortcut to lion conservation: it can only be developed from long-term presence and partnership. By joining forces, WildCRU and Panthera will be able to foster a transformative shift in our ability to protect lions.”

We have collaborated closely with Panthera on research and conservation projects for twenty years, including developing the Recanati-Kaplan Centre Postgraduate Diploma in International Wildlife Conservation Practice, which has delivered academic and practical training to over 100 students from traditionally under-represented countries to date. This reinforced partnership will enable Andrew to pool the vast knowledge gained by both our organizations through their decades-long work across lion landscapes and to jointly design, manage and scale up initiatives to increase the reach and impact of conservation efforts.

Our Director, Professor Amy Dickman, said, “Wildlife is under threat today as never before, with even the world’s most iconic species, such as the lion, in increasing peril. Conservation needs to be far more collaborative and effective to meet this challenge, and we believe that this joint position will be a critical step in that direction. WildCRU and Panthera both have strong track records in conservation, but we have never had the capacity to properly align our programs for maximum collective gain. This shared position will allow us to do this for our lion program, using a wealth of practical and academic experience to develop and expand effective conservation strategies, for the benefit of both wildlife and people.”

Under Andrew’s leadership, WildCRU and Panthera seek to develop programs which help reverse lion declines in sites with recovery potential; maintain populations’ genetic diversity; and protect and connect priority populations via comprehensive threat mitigation. Efforts include high-tech law enforcement and anti-poaching partnerships; community engagement; conservation education; behavior change campaigns; lion and prey monitoring; and meaningful local incentives for conservation.

The WildCRU-Panthera conservation sites are disproportionately significant for the future of African lions, including some of the world’s largest lion populations, such as those found in the Selous-Nyerere and Rungwa-Ruaha regions. They also include some of the largest connected transboundary landscapes, including the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Conservation Area (TFCA) and the Kavango Zambezi TFCA (KAZA). Home to one in ten of Africa’s remaining lions, KAZA represents the largest terrestrial conservation landscape in the world spanning five countries and 36 protected areas in a region the size of France.

The lion program will build on recent successes that provide replicable models for recovering lion populations. In a remarkable comeback after enduring half a century of poaching, lion populations are likely rebounding in Zambia’s Kafue National Park thanks to four years of rigorous counter-poaching operations employing game-changing conservation technologies led by the Department of National Parks and Wildlife. In another victory highlighted through breathtaking footage, Panthera and Senegal’s Department of National Parks have helped Critically Endangered West African lions in Niokolo Koba National Park more than double since 2011.

We have an extensive history of lion conservation work in Africa with several sites (such as the Hwange and Ruaha ecosystems) where long term engagement with conservation authorities and local communities has substantially reduced threats to lions, and improved the conservation outlook for them as well as for other species.

Andrew holds a Ph.D. in Zoology from Oxford University. His research on large carnivores has included lion population management, the impacts of trophy hunting, and human-wildlife conflict. Dr. Loveridge’s work has been published in more than 150 peer-reviewed articles. He is a member of the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Cat Specialist Group and African Lion Group, and is also a contributor to the IUCN’s Panthera leo species conservation guidelines and Red List assessment.

In recent decades, wild lion populations in Africa have undergone catastrophic decreases due to poaching for the illegal wildlife trade, habitat loss and human-wildlife conflict. Approximately 24,000 lions remain today, while around 100,000 were estimated to roam Africa in the 1970s, a decline of 75% in the last five decades.