The Plight of the Lion
The Plight of the Lion

The Plight of the Lion

The Great Lion Project

The Great Lion Project

Posted by Sam Hopkins on 7th Aug 2014 4 mins

Are you aware that this Sunday, August 10th, is 'World Lion Day'? As one of the world's most iconic predators it seems right to celebrate them. After all, open any travel magazine or go on any 'Big Five' safari drive in Africa and the likelihood is that lions will play a pretty prominent role throughout. But aside from celebrating these powerful predators, is there another purpose to this day? Well sadly yes – and it lies in the fact that their numbers are at an all-time low.

But hang on a second; lions aren't going extinct – are they? Well unfortunately they, along with many of the wildlife species endemic to Africa, are seriously in trouble. Today, the charity 'Lion Aid' estimates that there are only 15,000 – 20,000 lions left on the continent – 80 to 90% less than the 250,000+ present fifty years ago.

Shockingly, only seven countries (Botswana, Ethiopia, Kenya, South Africa, Tanzania, Zambia, and Zimbabwe) are believed to contain more than 1 000 lions each, and populations have been declared extinct in eighteen countries where they used to have a stronghold.

The problem has reached such a crisis that in Western Africa, lions are now declared as 'Regionally Critically Endangered'. According to an article published in 'The Independent' earlier this year, there are only thought to be 250 adult lions left in West Africa, following a 'catastrophic collapse' of the population. Now, they are only thought to remain in five countries: Niger, Nigeria, Benin, Burkina Faso and Senegal.

Similarly, in East Africa, numbers are increasingly fragile. Kenya, often considered as one of the top wildlife viewing destinations on earth, is losing its lions at a rate of 100 animals per annum due to increasing human-animal conflict. There are now thought to be only around 1300 lions left within the country, and experts fear that if their numbers keep decreasing; they could become extinct within a matter of years.

Moreover, the small population of Asiatic lions left within the Sasan Gir National Park in India, remains only by a thread. With only around 400 individuals left in just one national park, the likelihood of the entire population being wiped out, whether it be from a bout of disease or a forest fire, is an entirely possible prospect.

So what are the problems facing these iconic creatures and why are their numbers continually in decline? According to experts, there are numerous reasons for this. Habitat loss is a major issue throughout the continent, as human populations move into areas where lions reside, the two come into increasingly frequent contact. Inevitably, this leads to subsequent human-animal conflict, exacerbating problems of the survival of these magnificent predators for the same reasons that bears wolves, lynxes and pumas were destroyed in Europe and North America throughout centuries gone by.

According to an IUCN report in 2006, experts argue that "the lion is perceived by local communities as having a negative economic value, either through loss of life and livestock or through loss of income-generating opportunities restricted by protection of the habitat and wild prey lions need to survive".

What's more, given the increased fragmentation of populations through declining numbers, inbreeding is becoming a major issue. Consequently, side effects (including reduced gentic variation, low reproductive performance, reduced immune competency and increased cub mortality) can not only prove fatal to current generations, but can also to future populations of lions across the continent.

So what are the repercussions of this lion crisis? Well aside from losing one of our planet's most iconic animals, losing the lion would most likely have a major detrimental impact on vital ecosystems. Derek and Beverly Joubert, National Geographic explorers based in Botswana, state there will be major environmental ramifications if lions become extinct:

"They are the most vital centre point in many ecosystems. If we lose them we can anticipate eventual collapse of whole environments, right down to the water systems, as species overgraze and destroy the integrity of important vegetation, especially along rivers."

Clearly, if this statement is to be believed, then we have reached crisis levels, and something needs to be done now before it is too late. After all, can you imagine seeing a documentary set on the plains of Africa without this most iconic of predators?

If you would like to join one of our African projects, where you can work alongside lionsand contribute towards their conservation, then please visit our website here. We would also love to hear your thoughts on the lion crisis, so please don't hesitate to get in contact with us and share your views via our Facebook page here.

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