While lions generally avoid contact with people, living with large carnivores can be difficult and even dangerous. Between 1970 and 2011, lions attacked 87 people, killing 44 and injuring 45. Spotted hyaenas attacked 22 people, and leopards attacked seven. African wild dogs have never attacked a person in Niassa, however crocodile attacks on fishermen are common. A minimum of 17 lions have been killed in retaliation, but this is likely to be vastly underestimated. Since 2000 there have been 34 lion attacks, injuring 21 and killing 13. Between 2000 and 2010 an average of 2.9 attacks occurred per year.
Responses to a survey provided us with a trove of information that we used to identify risky behaviors. We know that the majority of the victims are men, older than 45 years, and the majority of attacks occurred in the village itself (or in the village fields), and only 23% of attacks occurred in the bush. Sleeping outside in the fields during the wet season (in order to protect crops), sitting around a fire at night, and walking alone any time are some of the high-risk activities. These attacks are preventable with proper education. The foundation of prevention is constant outreach. Our education materials - a poster about safe behaviours, a conservation storybook, and theatre productions in Mbamba village - have aided this effort. In addition, practical solutions such as the “living fences” and safe shelters help reduce human-lion conflict.
We emphasize common sense practices like sleeping inside to avoid carnivore attacks. Local shelter designs can vary widely and don’t all offer equal protection from a large carnivore. We have identified the traditional shelters that work the best. Shelters on stilts are the most effective (“Sanja”), while shelters on the ground must have a door, walls, and a roof in order to offer more security. Open thatch or bamboo and grass shelters that only provide protection from the rain are not secure.
Our “Protect Yourself” poster, illustrated by Conor Rawson, has been endorsed by the Ministry of Tourism and distributed to all schools and clinics in Niassa and to protected areas throughout Mozambique. Conor’s quirky, amusing illustrations get attention and spread the message to people without the need for further explanation or high levels of literacy. See more of Conor’s work here.