Today is World Lion Day and at a time when the population has fallen by an estimated 88% since 1975 it's high time the world started to pay attention.
Here are some depressing facts:
- Lions have lost over 80% of their historical range in Africa during the twentieth century.
- The estimated African lion population in 1975 was 250,000. Today, it's 30,000 - just 12% of the 1975 total.
- Lions have become locally extinct in 5 countries since 2002.
On a slightly brighter note African lions are not immediately threatened with extinction - however their long-term survival is far from assured.
More than any other mammal, lions are reliant on big, well-protected National Parks for their survival; large areas of land are necessary to support both them and their natural prey. The most important remaining strongholds are spread across eastern and southern Africa where, what were previously contiguous ranges, are now split in to isolated enclaves. This increases the risk of inbreeding and it's been calculated that a population of at least 50 prides, with no limits to male dispersal, are required to avoid this.
Why is this happening?
The main conservation threats are habitat loss, loss of prey and conflict with local people. While lion's are free-falling towards extinction Africa's human population is set to triple by 2100 - which increases the pressure on what was uninhabitated land where lions were previously free to roam and often sees them become persecuted, either directly - being shot, speared or poisoned - or indirectly through loss of habitat, loss of prey or being caught in wire-snares set for other game. Astonishingly, the trophy hunting of lions is still permitted in 13 African countries, which certainly does not help their cause.
What can be done?
For us to avoid awkward conversations with our grandchildren in the future about why this most iconic cat was lost on our watch, it is clear that there needs to be some focused action pretty quickly.
It is also clear that there is no simple solution - Africa's population will grow and the pressure will continue to increase. However, if we can maintain all the National Parks and Reserves that currently provide lion with sanctuary across Africa and ensure that they are well-protected, there is no reason whatsoever that we should lose the lions. The old adage "if it pays it stays" is oft-quoted in conservation circles and there is no species that this is more true for than lion. If you want to save one, go and see them in the wild - from Botswana to Kenya tourists in pursuit of lion, be it on foot on a walking safari or in a jeep will help ensure that they remain worth more alive than dead.
Posted by: Rod Tether