This post written by Angie Pyle.
Lions have always been a symbol of strength and power. The truth is lions in the wild are not doing well. Lions have lost over 80% of their original range and we have seen 30% decline in lion populations throughout Africa in the past 2 decades. Today there are only an estimated 35,000 African Lions left in the wild. The only threat lion’s face in the wild are people. As the human population increases, the conflicts between humans and lions increase. The good news is that there are several lion conservation projects throughout Africa researching, collecting data, educating local communities, and providing alternative solutions to human lion conflicts, and protecting the remaining lion populations. The Houston Zoo partners with the Niassa Lion Project, which works in the Niassa Reserve in Northern Mozambique. The Niassa Reserve has been listed as one of the strongholds or healthy lion populations left in Africa.
How does the community of Houston, Texas help save the African lion? The best thing we can do as individuals is learn more about lion conservation, and spread the word. The more people that are aware of the drastic decline in African lions, the more attention and contributions the groups trying to save them will receive. Awareness brings action. Several years ago, a local teacher by the name of Donna Fletcher approached the Zoo with a check for over $1000. Mrs. Fletcher came up with the “cash for cats” campaign where elementary school children learned about various cat conservation projects and then brought in their spare change to donate to the Zoo to save cats in the wild. This partnership is still going strong, and has expanded to another local elementary school, Lyons Elementary.
The Lyons Elementary School’s mascot is the Lion, so it only makes sense for them to help save them in the wild. Not only do the children of Lyons learn about conservation, wildlife and other cultures, but they learn to take action for something they believe in. Carnivore staff members visited the school to give a presentation on the Zoo’s role in conservation as well as a presentation on the African Lion. The Zoo actively participates in the Lyons Elementary Science night program as well. The children of Lyons Elementary, grades pre-k through 5th, raised $3722.25 in two weeks to help save lions in the wild! The classroom that raised the most amount of money will be coming to the Zoo for a special “Lion Fun Day” of their own in April. The students will get to create crafts, play conservation games, and most importantly meet the pride of lions that live at the Houston Zoo. Through community partnerships like this children can see the impact a school can have on the future for wildlife. We cannot thank Lyons enough for this incredible contribution and dedication to save wild lions.
Principal, Cecilia Gonzales, has been supportive of the partnership from the beginning and is no doubt beaming with pride for what her students were able to accomplish for the Niassa Lion Project. Teacher, Sarah Izquierdo, has driven the “love your lions” campaign at Lyons Elementary, and is a great example of enthusiasm, and commitment for her students.
Stay tuned for an update on Lyons Elementary students “Lion Fun Day” at the Houston Zoo in April.
To learn more about the Niassa Lion Project please visit the Houston Zoo website.