losing lion populations
more prey less poaching
The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has listed lions as vulnerable to extinction, with just 25,000 left in Africa and a small population of 600 Asiatic lions isolated in a national park in India.
Since Disney’s The Lion King premiered in 1994, lion populations have dropped by half. To put that into perspective, for every wild lion there are 14 African elephants and 15 Western lowland gorillas. Africa’s iconic lions have disappeared from 94% of their previous range and they are now limited to less than 660,000 square miles.
In the wild lions face a number of threats, including a lack of prey due to the wild bushmeat trade. This forces them into contact with humans and their livestock when searching for food. Often the lions are poisoned by humans in retaliation for preying on cattle or goats. Human settlements also break up habitats making it more difficult for lions to mate and form new prides. Other threats include poaching for skin, teeth, paws and claws which are used in traditional medicine.
With the population of lions decreasing, conservationists are working with local communities to encourage human-lion cohabitation. Some conservation initiatives offer rewards to communities that increase their local lion populations, providing incentives not to poach or kill the big cats. Similarly, there are compensation schemes that replace livestock killed by lions.
The Samburu tribe of central Kenya had been raised to kill lions, but in 2010 a warrior named Jeneria Lekilelei founded Warrior Watch - a group of Samburu warriors who aim to increase local lion populations by changing views and perceptions of lions. Warrior Watch recruits other Samburu warriors and makes them lion ambassadors. The warriors go out early in the morning, before livestock is released to graze, to track the lions. They then tell the communities where the ions are so that they can avoid those areas. In exchange for warning herders most warriors ask for education.
Since Warrior Watch was founded, the local lion population has risen from 11 to 50 animals.
Unfortunately, lion numbers are so low in Kenya that each lion has its own name, almost like a domestic cat. More funding is needed to protect this iconic species. In July 2019 Disney teamed up with The Lion Recovery Fund to launch the Protect the Pride campaign. This initiative aims to educate people on the lion’s plight, as well as encouraging people to support conservation efforts.
Although lion numbers are worryingly low there is hope the species can be saved. If Africa’s protected areas and national parks received more funding, experts believe lion populations could triple in size.