Project supported by IUCN Save Our Species
Establishing the presence of leopards and lions in the Lésio-Louna Reserve in the Republic of Congo
This exciting new project expands on our existing work in the Lésio-Louna Reserve to support a viable population of Critically Endangered western lowland gorillas following the success of our reintroduction programme.
Local knowledge confirms the presence of leopards, and as lions are known to frequently co-exist with leopards it is likely they also encompass the reserve within their larger overall range. Camera trap evidence of a lion in Gabon’s neighbouring reserve supports this belief as does independent sightings of large carnivore footprints found in the Lefini Reserve thought to be lion. No formal assessment has yet been conducted in Lésio-Louna to confirm the status of either species.
Our plan is for this two-year project to achieve the following:
- provide the first assessment of the status of leopards and lions within the reserve
- alleviate pressure from the illegal wildlife trade through patrols
- give an indication of the health of the ecosystem by monitoring wildlife
- support a long-term strategy to add further levels of protection for the reserve
About the Project
Given their elusive nature it can be difficult to carry out surveys of large carnivores using most common techniques for assessing relative levels of mammals in Africa. Whilst it is already known that leopards are present in Lésio-Louna our current regular patrols have not generated detailed evidence regarding their numbers. There is also evidence that lions encompass the reserve within their larger overall range, but to date a detailed assessment of their presence has not been possible.
The project includes a number of key activities:
About Leopards & Lions
Leopards (Panthera pardus)
Like many cats the leopard is a solitary animal. They are active mainly from dusk till dawn, and they are very adept at climbing trees. They will often rest on branches, will happily descend headfirst, and, given that both lions and hyenas will steal their food if they can, they use their amazing strength to store their kill high up in trees where they can feed in relative safety.
There are significant differences between males and females. Large males can weigh up to 90kg, whilst females are generally around 40% smaller. The skull of the male is bigger, stronger, more angular, and the sagittal crest, which influences the power of the jaw, is very pronounced in the male, and almost absent in the female.
Their diet is varied: the leopard generally hunts small and medium-sized prey such as antelopes, vervet monkeys, jackals, wild boars, etc. However, male leopards can attack animals that are two to three times their weight. In such cases, because of the large weight of these animals, they are unable to hoist them into a tree sheltered from other large predators and will often abandon these kills in favour of those they can carry.
Its habitat is varied, ranging from the savannah, through the forest, the mountains or even desert areas and swamps.
Classified as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List with populations decreasing it is likely their adaptability both in relation to diet and habitat is a key aspect of their continued survival. Physical evidence of their presence in the Lésio-Louna Reserve already exists but there is currently no estimate of population density or spatial distribution, which we are hopeful the project will contribute towards.
Lions (Panthera Leo)
Lions are the most social of the big cats. They live in prides, which are permanent social units, made up of females related to each other, males unrelated to females, and their offspring. The size of the territory and the availability of prey determine the size of the group, which varies from 3 to 30 individuals. It is commonly believed lionesses are faster than males and can reach top speeds close to 60 km / h, but this speed can only be maintained over short distances. Very muscular and long, they can make remarkable jumps, of the order of 3.70 m in height and 11 m in length.
Although today confined almost exclusively to the savannah, the past distribution of the lion shows that it has a great adaptability and can live in many habitats and in very different climates (temperate to tropical). The lion's natural habitat however is mainly savannah, and also semi-open deciduous forests and semi-deserts. The species is therefore naturally lacking in the dense humid tropical forests of Central Africa, in swamps with too tall vegetation, and in the most arid deserts of North Africa and the Near East.
Given their social nature communication is more developed than for other felines. Their vocal range consists of growls, hisses, moans, meows, and the famous roar. The purr does not sound like that of a small cat, but rather like a deep growl or snore. The roar has various meanings including to demarcate territory, call out other group members, intimidate rivals and strengthen the “family” bond between group members. On a clear night, it can be heard up to three miles away.
The lion usually only hunts in the dark or in the cool hours of the morning and they are inactive for 20 to 21 hours a day, including 10 to 15 hours sleeping. The main prey species are large, medium and small bovids such as antelopes. They also hunt buffalo, birds and sometimes fish.
This project is possible thanks to administrative authorities of the Ministry, in particular the General Directorate of the Ministry of Forest Economy as well as the Directorate in charge of Wildlife and Protected Areas who have been of great support for the conservation work carried out in the Reserve. We are also extremely grateful to IUCN Save our Species who, through the African Wildlife Initiative, are helping to support this two-year project that commenced in May 2020. The African Wildlife initiative is a partnership between the European Union and IUCN that responds to conservation challenges facing key threatened species in sub-Saharan Africa. It delivers tangible results for species, habitats and people.