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Since, filming the series Big Cat Diaries what projects have you been working on?

Jonathan's last TV series was called The Truth About Lions for the BBC. This documented our work with one particular pride of lions "The Marsh Lions" which we have been following since 1977 in the Masai Mara - 35 years.

We have a small stone cottage at Governors Camp in the Mara and leave one of our safari vehicles at Governor's year round - and then fly in from our home in Nairobi whenever we are hosting a safari or photo workshop or are working on our own books or other projects.

The Truth About Lions also highlighted the work of Professor Craig Packer who heads up the Serengeti Lion Project which has been running since 1966 and has accumulated a huge

data base on lions. The theme of the programs was to try and give a better understanding of why lions are the exception among the cat family (36 species in all by most people's estimate) in being social. What has driven that process? And we also wanted to highlight the fact that all across Africa lions are struggling to survive among the burgeoning human population. Changing land use and conflict with livestock are big factors in their decline.

2012 is the 30th Anniversary of The Marsh Lions (1982) co- authored with Brian Jackman, and to celebrate this landmark Bradt Publishers have published a new edition of this book in their series of Wildlife Classics. The 2012 edition has a new Introduction and Epilogue to bring the story up to date - with all new color photos from Angie.

Jonathan also presented and narrated The Secret Leopards for the BBC Natural World TV series - highlighting the lives of leopards we have known in the Mara such as Zawadi and Bella as well as telling the story of leopards around the world

and their struggle to survive close to man.

We are very excited about a new project we have initiated with our friends at the John Keells Group in Sri Lanka - in particular Chitral Jayatilake - which we have called Leopard Guardians. This will help raise awareness of the iconic status of the Sri Lankan leopard - and in particular to address the conservation and tourism issues related to the leopard population in Yala National Park.

We will be sponsoring a local graduate student who will build up a data base on the Yala leopards, help to update the website and work with the Parks and Tourism sector in developing good conservation practices.

Leopard Guardians will also work with local communities living around the park to help them protect their livestock from attack by leopards. To this effect John Keels and its partners have already supplied a number of predator proof metal pens for this purpose.

Read About John Keells Project Leopard

What have you come to understand about Big Cats from countless hours of observation?

That each animal is unique. All of the big cats - whether lions, leopards or cheetahs - have their individual characters, quirks and foibles. Some lions for instance are more placid than others and avoid conflict where possible, some are more volatile and likely to be first to confront strangers, some are better hunters than others - and some are particularly good mothers and have greater success in raising their cubs.

Once you realize how complex big cats are it makes it very difficult to think of someone killing a one of them gratuitously.

Trophy hunting is an anathema to us. We can see no moral justification for killing big cats for sport - simply for one man's personal gratification. Having seen how difficult it is for a big cat to survive to adulthood we know what a travesty it is to hunt big cats in this kind of way.

The worst end of the spectrum is exemplified in recent years by incidents in some of the southern African countries where 'canned hunting' is a hugely controversial issue. Canned hunting is when an animal raised in captivity is released in an enclosed area to be hunted for sport. Even where this has been banned the issue of captive bred lions is still a very thorny issue.

Only the most strictly monitored hunting operations that abide by scientifically sanctioned quota systems with strict limits on the number of big cats killed has any validity in conservation - and this is said with serious reservations. Generating income for local communities in this way and helping to protect wild habitat that is unsuitable for conventional tourism is the selling point for this strategy. But some question just how much revenue and benefit reverts to the local community.

On the other hand we can understand the frustration of local people who live with wildlife and bear the costs - both in terms of loss of human life and loss of their livelihoods. Villagers at times are killed by wild animals and lose livestock to predators - and often receive little by way of compensation for their losses. There has been a lot of work done to try and address this situation and to come up with solutions that work for both humans and wildlife.

Much attention has been focused on encouraging livestock holders to build more secure bomas for their domestic animals with strong predator proof doors and ringed with wire or wooden poles. This helps to keep livestock safe at night - and to prevent the wholesale reprisals that were common in the past where whole prides of lions were poisoned or speared in retaliation for killing livestock.

Sadly the use of poison - currently in East Africa we are still struggling to control the use of the deadly pesticide Furadan (which has been banned in the US where it is manufactured) as a cheap and easy to use counter measure against predators such as lions, leopards and hyenas. But the poison knows no boundaries and has resulted in a startling loss of our birds of prey in and around the Mara - and far beyond.

Illustration by Angela Scott from the book “The Marsh Lions”

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