*Over the last 50 years, the lion population has plummeted from 200,000 to less than 25,000
*Sadly, the rate of decline is accelerating. While the countries of Ghana, Cote D’Ivoire and the Congo have already lost their lions, Kenya, Nigeria and Uganda expect them to be gone within ten years.
FACTORS EFFECTING LION POPULATION
Habitat loss and human conflict is partially to blame for their loss. The loss comes from the gradual depletion of the savannah. In an ecosystem that was once larger than the United States, there is only about a quarter of that left today. From this shrinking habitat, comes a population growth which increases human/lion conflicts. People move into an area, bring in livestock which is inadvertently bait for the lions; then when the lions come in and do what their predator skills dictate they do, the people kill the lions. It’s a losing situation on both sides.
Trophy hunting/canned hunting is also a factor. (See previous post: https://fightforrhinos.wordpress.com/2013/03/17/shooting-fish-in-a-barrel/). This is entirely preventable. There are currently 160 farms in South Africa alone who legally breed lions just to be hunted. Although the hunts are not completely confined to bred animals, as some ranches capture wild lions and smuggle them in. In a five-year span ending in 2011, there have been 4,062 lion trophies exported out of South Africa.
Canine distemper and tuberculosis have also been widespread. In 1994 and 2001 there were major Distemper outbreaks resulting in a the demise of a third of the population. Tuberculosis started with infected cattle and moved to buffalo which was ingested by the lions. About 25 lions die each year from TB. Just as importantly, it has an effect on social behavior, as males are weakened by the chronic disease, leading to a faster territorial male turnover and consequent infanticide, eviction of entire prides and a decrease in lion longevity.
NEGATIVE AFFECTS OF LION DISAPPEARANCE
If this top predator disappears, it will devastate an entire ecosystem. Lions play an integral role in the food chain, regulating the herbivores (i.e zebra, buffalo). Without the big cats, the “prey” will out-compete other animals, causing a reduction in biodiversity and eventual extinction.
Tourism will become non-existent. People go on safari to see not only the lions, but the lion’s prey (zebra, gazelle, buffalo). At the current rate of decline with Africa’s big 5 (lion, elephant, rhino, buffalo, and leopard) there will be NO safaris.
It seems difficult for people to grasp that the “King of the Jungle” is vulnerable and needs help. But without human intervention, it seems the lions may be a species of the past, only to be seen in pictures. We can’t let that happen.
For more information on lions and how to save them please go to these organizations: