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Lions benefit from elephant poaching in Mozambique park

JOHANNESBURG (AP) — The lion population has increased in a major wildlife park in Mozambique partly because heavy poaching of elephants has provided the carnivores with a bounty of carcasses to eat as well as vulnerable elephant calves to hunt, a conservationist said Thursday.

The surge in lion numbers in the Niassa National Reserve is “in part due to elephant carcasses,” though other factors have contributed to the increase, conservationist Colleen Begg of the Niassa Carnivore Project said in an email to The Associated Press. Those factors include the recovery of other species that serve as lion prey as well as education campaigns that seek to persuade villagers living in the vast park in northern Mozambique not to kill lions.

The rise in the number of lions in Niassa contrasts with declines in lion populations elsewhere in Africa. Lions are designated as vulnerable on an international “red list” of species facing threats. Poachers have killed several tens of thousands of elephants annually in recent years to meet rising demand for ivory, particularly in China.

A link between the Niassa lion increase and elephant poaching “is hard to prove as there are so many variables, but we are happy with saying it is related,” Begg wrote. “How could it not have benefited the lions, hyenas and vultures?”

Surveys put the number of lions in Niassa at between 950 and nearly 1,200 in 2012, while there were between about 580 and 810 in 2005, according to Begg. Another count will be conducted this year.

In May, conservationists said the number of elephants in Mozambique had dropped nearly 50 percent to about 10,300 in the last five years because of poaching. Many of those elephants were killed in the Niassa park.

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