Cecil the lion’s death in Zimbabwe at the hands of overzealous hunters has resulted in a sudden awakening to the plight of the endangered lion. Yes, the lion is endangered, and some estimates show that these magnificent “simbas” could be extinct as soon as 2020. Yes, 2020. 5 years from now. There are only 20,000 to 30,000 lions left in all of Africa. Since the 1950s lion numbers have dropped from 450,000 to approximately 25,000 left in the wild. And sadly, we continue to kill them.
In 2010 Derek Joubert wrote an article for NatGeo and founded the Big Cats Initiative. 5 years ago he wrote, “People have shot, speared, trapped and poisoned lions relentlessly. We have chopped up their habitat, introduced diseases and, lately, we’ve begun to change the climate they—and the rest of us—live in. Most of all, we are swamping them by our sheer numbers. The 20,000 lions cling to the last remaining habitat our 7 billion people have not yet got to.” (http://www.defenders.org/magazine/fall-2010/can-we-save-lions)
To those who say that trophy hunting a few lions helps their conservation, Joubert points out “Each year an average of about 500 lion trophies or skins enter the United States from trophy hunting in Africa. If you do the math, you quickly see that this is not sustainable. Because male lions operate in coalitions of two or three, each male lion that is shot leaves the remaining male outmatched in the next territorial fight, and he is expelled. There is no future for expelled lions, so one license effectively kills two males. At the same time his eight females (on average) and their 24 cubs are left without defenders. The new alpha males are genetically wired to kill all cubs and start the breeding process again with their genes. So one license is really cleaning out between 20 and 30 lions each time—and if Americans are responsible for 500 of those licenses, they are effectively killing lions at an enormous rate.” Zimbabwe has sighed with relief that Jericho, Cecil’s brother, has allowed Cecil’s cubs to live, probably because they are from the same gene pool.
What’s the big deal, you may ask. Why do we need lions, anyway? Lions in Asia are down to 300 in the wild, so they will be extinct very soon. Didn’t know lions extended into India? Well, they don’t anymore. If we lose our apex predators in the wild the prey numbers become larger and larger. They overgraze their environment which can cause soil erosion. The habitat is now covered in weeds and not supporting the larger herbivore populations. The population collapses.
And don’t forget, 80 billion dollars a year goes into Africa for safari tourism. Seeing lions in the wild is at the top of the list for tourists on safari. They won’t fork over huge amounts of money if there are no lions to see, which will collapse the economy which many African nations are dependent on. A live lion is worth a lot more than a dead one.
So what can we do? We can support lion conservation foundations like Big Cat Initiative. Please click on the link to see how you can help. Other organizations can be found by clicking on Who to Support: World Lion Day. The whole world has expressed horror at the death of Cecil in Zimbabwe. Save his species by clicking on the above links!