The lion may be the king of beasts, but the high bounty on its head makes humankind no match for one of the world’s most powerful predators.
August 10th marks World Lion Day – a day dedicated to honoring these incredible animals and raising awareness around myriad threats that put their very existence at risk.
With poachers lurking in the shadows, trophy hunters paying thousands of dollars to hunt them, habitat loss and fragmentation, the bushmeat crisis, and a booming illegal wildlife trade for their bones, skin, teeth, paws, and claws, lions are disappearing at an alarming rate.
Lions are the second-largest cat in the world, just behind the Asian tiger. Three million years ago, these immense creatures roamed all over Africa and the Eurasian supercontinent. But today, their range is reduced primarily to Africa and select parts of Asia. Over the last four decades, the lion population has shrunk in half. Lions are listed as “vulnerable to extinction” by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.
“Lions have undergone a catastrophic decline, and the reason for their decline can be summed up in just one word: humans,” said Network for Animals (NFA)’s David Barritt. “Horrifically, there are only about 20,000 lions left in this world. They are extinct in 26 African countries and have vanished from over 95 percent of their historic range.”
Rural people and poachers kill lions for bushmeat - entrapped mainly by the use of wire snares. While most snared lions don't make it out alive, some have been found still clinging to life, with deep, festering wounds. A growing number of lions are killed and mutilated for their body parts - used in phony Asian medicine. Then there is merciless hunters, who kill lions for nothing more than kicks-and-giggles and the bragging right of having an animal's head mounted on their lounge wall.
About 200 places in South Africa breed lions in captivity for canned lion hunting. As many as 6,000 lions are ‘stockpiled’ for hunters. When a lioness gives birth, her cubs are taken from her and used for tourists to pet and pose with them in photographs. When a lion gets bigger and harder to handle, it is moved to an enclosed area and there it stays until someone pays to shoot it. They call it "canned lion hunting" because these lions are literally served up on a plate for hunters. The lions can’t run, hide, or defend themselves in any way.
"The lions are frequently drugged to make it easier for hunters, who often shoot the poor creature, while they sit inside a nearby vehicle. Often it takes several shots before the animal dies. In Zimbabwe, a lion called Cecil was shot with a bow and arrow and suffered for 12 hours before dying!” added Barrit. “NFA is committed to fighting this cruelty and have it outlawed but it’s an uphill battle because the canned lion industry is wealthy and so far, the South African government is ignoring the cruelty.”
With the help of our supporters, NFA aims to bring lion populations back by abolishing canned and trophy hunting, stopping the bushmeat trade, as well as protecting and connecting core lion populations throughout the species’ range in Africa.
As their numbers shrink, so does the gene pool; lions who lack DNA diversity are more vulnerable to disease and struggle to adapt to environmental changes. Lions need genetic diversity to adapt to changing weather patterns caused by climate change.
NFA is helping diverse that all-important gene pool by assisting with the movement of lions to different breeding areas far apart from one another. NFA has already successfully helped relocate three young male lions from the Addo Elephant National Park, in South Africa’s Eastern Cape, to Madikwe Game Reserve in the north of the country, a 1,600-kilometer (1,000 mile) journey. By breeding in Madikwe, the genes brought by Addo’s lions will benefit future generations.
“Every day is another opportunity for us to make a difference in this beautiful world that we share with lions, and so many other magnificent creatures. We can work together to help protect lions from pain, suffering, and ultimately extinction on this planet,” concluded Barritt.