ArtIAmA Oil painting artist who painted the first Paranoma painting in my country, Kuwait! Ask me anything!
Dec 31st 2016 by AsadBunashi • 26 Questions • 979 Points
I've been studying lions in Africa for nearly 40 years. My research has been important in reducing the prevalence of lion trophy hunting and raising awareness regarding conservation challenges. I spend my days working to improve the future for African lions in both fenced and unfenced reserves, and starting at 5:00pm Central Time, I'm an open book. Ask me anything!
Edit: We're done for the day. But if you'd like to learn more about lions, the Lion Center or me, you might be interesting in checking out my two books on Amazon: Lions in the Balance
Want to help out? We're currently hosting a Crowdfunding Campaign to raise money for additional camera traps in Africa!
I've heard that trophy hunters actually fund more conservation of lions with the money it costs them to obtain permission to hunt a single lion, is that true?
Probably, depends on what exhibit I'm going to do about next.
I've been to India, China and Thailand for different exhibits, so I might give USA a try!
I felt (a) unprepared, (b) underqualified, and (c) unsupported.
(a) The majority of the knowledge I gained during my time in college was of no use to me whatsoever. Most of the focus was on early childhood students and my professors all told me (us, I guess) that all we had to do was trust our students and be there for them and everything else would fall into place. When myself and others in my cohort in school would ask about more 'refined' behavioral issues (for lack of a better term), they'd shrug it off and say "Just do this and you won't have that problem." Everything was so idealistic for them and it became obvious later on how out of touch with teaching they were. So when I landed my job, I was naïve as could be and was overwhelmed from the second it started by student behaviors, shifting policies within the district/state, and the sheer workload.
(b) Beyond just not bracing for a realistic classroom setting, my school was a full inclusion setting, meaning kids in special education attended general education classes as often as possible. I love the system and think it's the way to go, but I had almost no realistic education for how to approach moderate/severe disabilities as a teacher. I didn't really know any of the available accessibility technologies or techniques for actually getting the major points across. Even assessing a student with severe disabilities was an enigma for me. I reached out for help from various sources, but each person told me so many different and conflicting things that I never managed to get it right.
(c) In the two weeks prior to the school year, I discovered I wouldn't have curriculum for my students. That's, like, a big deal. It's the road map of what you teach, and when/how to teach it. There was no mentor from the district that was promised when I was hired earlier in the summer. There were no textbooks or class novels. I had to work in the librarian at my school to apply for a state grant just to BUY THE PREVIOUS YEAR'S NOVELS, as I was then going off of that curriculum. My principal was letting all the 'rough' parents walk all over her when she was supposed to be a barrier between them and us teachers. Upper administration in the district had very little concern for any of my grievances, too, as there were a number of seat swaps in the headquarters and policies changing just as rapidly.
I never claimed to be a great teacher and I do blame much of my hardship on myself, but I was certainly never given an environment to thrive in.
This is only true in a few parts of Africa. In most places, the hunting fees are far too low to cover the costs of protecting the hunting blocks from poachers, cattle herders, etc. The hunting blocks are typically rented out to individuals with close contacts inside the range-state governments. So the government "official" gets the money rather than the government agency that pays the rangers' salaries, etc. In short, the high idealism of sport hunting fails because of rampant corruption.
Thank you for what you do. Being a para is an even less respected profession despite being the ones that make the biggest difference with those who need it.
There are a lot of good places to see lions in South Africa. You are almost certain to see them in Kruger National Park. The Sabi Sands Conservancy is another great area. But you can find lions in a number of the smaller parks in KwaZulu-Natal, Limpopo and and Mpumalanga. My favorite fun fact about lions is that they can count.
I learned more about how to change a battery in a hearing aid then I did with how to talk to parents, or organize teenagers. Teacher's education is so out of step with what is needed in the classroom its scary. For most teachers, on their first day as a teacher they are totally alone in the classroom, nobody to ask questions to or help. You have to find a mentor in most cases, and usually you are so tired by the end of those first days the last thing you want is someone else pointing out your flaws.
That people are unprepared for it is one of the main criticisms, I think, of programs like Teach For America. For instance, they take idealistic young teachers with little experience and expect them to actually effect change and it doesn't work that way. Do you agree?
How did you get into this field? What made you want to do it and how did you follow through?
It's exactly the problem we have right now. The training and preparation prospective teachers receive is so behind the times of a system that barely has any shared identity from year to year.
i was extraordinarily lucky to be able to go to Africa as a field assistant to Jane Goodall when i was an undergraduate. Very few people watched animals in the wild in those days, so when I caught the bug for research, it was relatively easy to keep going. In my case, I went to graduate school in the UK so as to return to the primate project with Jane, and when i finished my degree, I was able to take over the Serengeti lion project from a couple of friends. The field is far more crowded today!
What was the worst and the best moment in the classroom for you?
How do you feel about the Cecil shooting? All permits were in place for the shooter. What's your take on what happened?
Worst moment and best moment revolved around the same incident. It definitely had to be the one regarding a troublesome student who came from a rough background and was consistently having trouble fitting in. He and I were always closer than most other students were to me and, despite his (and my) shortcomings, our relationship grew into a strong trust over time.
During parent/teacher conferences in which us three teachers all met the parents at once (because fuck 90 different meetings for EACH teacher), one of my colleagues mentioned that she saw the student stealing food from another student's lunchbox and bribing another for food. I, personally, had never witnessed this and was honestly a little surprised when I heard it. Well, Mom went home and shamed the kid and he roared in during my first class the next day and shouted me out, screaming that he trusted me and thought I'd be there for him and how I lied just to get him into trouble to keep him under control at home. ... It's tough to even recall the memory as it's still so vivid in my mind. Eventually, he apologized and I did, too, as for all he knew I DID say those things - I couldn't just say the other teacher lied or whatever. We ended the school year amicably with a giant hug and he promised me he'd go on to do good things with his life and help others like himself.
Cecil was shot illegally. The Zimbabwean guide only had permission to shoot a lion in an area in a different part of the country -- and he brought his client to a site where lions from Hwange National Park are often found. But even if Cecil had been shot legally, the client only spent $50,000 -- when the true conservation costs of shooting a fully adult lion is well over $1,000,000 -- lion conservation is expensive and sport hunting in most countries raises pennies on the dollar of the true costs of wildlife management.
Did you talk to any current teachers in your state before deciding on being a teacher?
What is perhaps the biggest threat facing wild lions today? Also, if every trophy hunt were 100% legal and the funds always went towards lion conservation with no corruption present, would trophy hunting (with the fees as they are today) help conservation efforts more than it harmed the lion population?
Not directly, no. But we (my college cohort and myself) all knew the common grievances going into it. We also knew that there are good schools and struggling schools, good districts and struggling districts, and that we could choose where to end up.
Of course, that didn't prepare for just how polarizing the difference between an affluent school and a Title I school is.
The biggest threat, ultimately, is rapid human population growth across Africa == by 2050 population density in much of Africa will be similar to India today. Lions need vast tracts of land -- and open areas outside the parks are disappearing fast while the parks themselves tend to be underfunded.
Sport hunting could only make a difference if it raised about twenty-times as much money per square mile. Lion conservation costs about $2,000 per square kilometer, and lion hunting seldom generates even a third as much -- and in many places, hunting only generates $20-100 per sq km.
This could either be achieved by greatly increasing the fees per client or making it much more difficult to actually shoot a lion -- most lions are shot at baits and outfitters practically guarantee one lion per client. If only 1 in 20 were successful, a lot more revenue would be generated. So big changes would be necessary.
So I have a friend who is in his 3rd year of teaching 9-12 earth sciences. I asked him what the worst part of teaching is and he said it's dealing with people who don't want to learn because it reflects badly on you. Do you agree with this or is there something worse? Besides pay of course.
Hi Craig! What is your favorite lion of all time? Have you ever thought about combating lion poachers first hand by creating a rogue force? If so, please IM me- #JusticeforCecil
Absolutely. My worth as a teacher to the state was almost solely based on the test scores of not only my own students, but all students at my school and even within my geographic area. I had a number of students whose parents were rather vocal about their distaste with teachers/schools and were very, ehh, anti-establishment in general. So when their kids strut into my room, refuse to learn, and any sort of sense I can get into them is instantly deleted when they're picked up, how is it remotely fair that my credibility as a professional is based on their test scores? Or how about my student who came to school the morning after being taken into Child Protective Services because his mom almost died from a crack overdose? The last thing on their mind is "being a good test-taker," yet that's where my job security lies. The system is horrendously biased against students with less stable home lives and, therefore, against teachers in lower income areas. So it's no wonder the state has trouble filling these positions and keeping people there for longer than 5 years.
There was a lion I got to know when I first started working in the Serengeti. Our predecessors on the lion project had named her Goka. When i first met her, she was about 3 yrs old, playful and curious. She was mating with a big black-maned male, and she blithely came up to chew on the tire of my Land Rover -- I worried that she might bite all the way thru the tread and leave me stranded with a flat tire. So I reached out the window and banged on the side of the car with my fist. She jumped back half a step, but her consort partner leapt straight at my arm in a fit of jealousy. I pulled my hand back inside in time, but I wondered if I would survive the next few years in the Serengeti.
A few months later, Goka unhitched the guy ropes of a tent with a BBC film team inside and tried to drag everyone across the plains. The following year, I got out of my car near a rocky outcrop (kopje) and walked around to stretch my legs. When I turned back, Goka was stalking me -- and she was halfway between me and my car. I made a lot of noise, clapped my hands and made it back to the car -- and Goka just watched as I ran past. Nothing really seemed to bother her, and there was something about her that made her seem really intelligent. She lived to be 15 yrs of age (the oldest female we ever studied in the Serengeti lived to 19), so she had a long life, but her pride territory was in a really challenging part of the park with little to eat for much of the year, and she only ever managed to raise one cub to maturity, a son who moved to a different part of the park, found a companion, and started his own family.
how did you get started studying about lions? and why lions of all animals?
Now? I'm a substitute teacher for the time being. I was one for a semester after graduating in December 2013 before teaching, so I went back to gain perspective from afar. My wife is also fortunate enough to be making enough money at this time to largely support the both of us.
As for what's to come? I don't intend to be a substitute beyond next school year, but I still legitimately have no idea what's next. I have so many creative interests but still feel drawn to teaching and obligated to return in time.
I started off studying monkeys and became intrigued by the way that baboons sometimes cooperated in their disputes with each other (mothers helped their daughters vs. other females; a pair of males would form a temporary coalition against a third). So as time went on, I wanted to find a highly cooperative species that I could study in more detail, and lions fit the bill: they hunt together, raise their cubs together and defend joint territories -- so it was a good choice!