Lazy lion. Samburu National Reserve, Kenya.
Photo taken by Rebecca Sargent.

By Rebecca Sargent, Sarobidy Rakotonarivo, Steve Rushton, BenJee Cascio, Ana Grau, Andrew R. Bell, Nils Bunnefeld, Amy Dickman, and Marion Pfiefer.

Read the full paper here.

Living alongside large carnivores, such as the African lion, is incredibly challenging. Lion attacks on livestock are common and affected communities may kill lions in retaliation, leading to population declines across Africa. Finding solutions for managing human-lion conflict is, therefore, important for both people and wildlife.

Experimental games are emerging as a new tool to investigate acceptable solutions, by allowing players to explore different options in a safe and relaxed atmosphere. In this study, we used a game to investigate people’s preferences for several mitigation methods. In the game, players could choose to protect their livestock using various options such as ‘spearing lions’, ‘scaring lions’, and ‘providing lion habitat’ by refraining from grazing cattle. Each choice offered different point scores and costs, and different rates of success. The game was played in groups of four, by a total of 172 livestock owners in the Ruaha landscape of Tanzania.

We found that very few people chose to spear lions, and that the preferred option was to use non-lethal scaring methods which may include torches, horns or fires. When point bonuses were offered for ‘providing lion habitat’, these worked best when they were given to the individual player rather than being shared by the group. Player characteristics and attitudes had little influence on people’s choices within the game. Although there was some evidence that gender, wealth and the behaviour of other players affected decision-making.

Charities and governments may provide incentives to communities for supporting conservation. Often these include things such as providing supplies for local schools or clinics or offering financial payments. Our findings suggest that, while incentives can encourage conservation behaviour, these may be more effective when targeted at individuals rather than communities. We also provide some of the first evidence that games could play a role in investigating human-carnivore conflict management. The games were well-received and quickly understood, offering a practical and engaging approach for conducting community surveys and encouraging discussions.