Introduction and History
Lions are one of four large cats in the genus Panthera and family Felidae. Second in size after the tiger, male lions can reach weights of 400-500 pounds. Lions are the only cats that live in large groups, called prides. Historically, African lions (Panthera leo) ranged throughout Africa, however the current population can only be found in small pockets in sub-Saharan Africa. Asiatic lions (Panthera leo persica) were once found throughout southwest Asia and India and now reside in the Gir Forest National Park on the western coast of India. Lions are amongst the laziest of all the cat species, spending up to 20 hours a day resting. Their remaining hours are spent protecting their territory which is largely done by males, while females hunt for prey like zebras, wildebeests, and antelope.
Lion populations throughout the world have seen a dramatic decrease in the last 50 years. Lions are currently listed as “vulnerable” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), however the dramatic decline in both Asiatic and African lion populations leads biologists to believe these cats are much more rare. The total African lion population has been cut in half since the 1950s, with less than 30,000 individual lions remaining today. The Asiatic lion population is currently between 200-300 individuals.
Lions face a number of threats and without immediate action; we could lose one of the most iconic animal species in the world. Lion populations throughout Africa struggle with the expanding human population. This expansion into lion habitat causes several key issues, which include:
- Loss and/or fragmentation of critical lion habitat: The loss of lion habitat results in small, isolated populations, which have a much higher rate of extinction. Fragmentation of lion habitat occurs when people change and use land for agricultural purposes.
- Human/wildlife conflict: Humans and large predators (such as lions) living in close proximity to one another can struggle over resources and space. While the availability of natural prey for lions decreases, the cases of lions raiding domestic livestock increases. This results in a negative interaction between humans and lions, where lions often suffer the consequences.
By developing innovative and realistic methods for people to live harmoniously with large predators, we can improve the livelihoods of local communities while saving this iconic species. Connecting people who strive to save lion populations while promoting and supporting organizations who are successfully implementing community-based conservation efforts that benefit both people and wildlife can have a lasting positive impact on the remaining lion population.
The lion conservation projects supported here conduct research to estimate lion populations in various countries through camera trapping and radio telemetry, monitoring lion movements in and out of protected areas, and tracking the occurrence of human-lion conflict.
These programs further their research by engaging the local communities through training opportunities to collect data on wildlife sightings, implementing education programs for kids of all ages, and creating occasions for children to view their own wildlife on game drives. These projects also work with the local communities on human-wildlife conflict mitigation while improving their standard of living through increased healthcare and education.
By working together and understanding the complex issues wildlife faces today, we can all be part of the race to save wild animals and wild places.