Panthera Leo - last call
For African lions, the call of the wild is rapidly approaching ‘last call’.
For most of us, the only opportunity to see a lion is in a zoo. It’s entirely possible that our grandchildren and their children will get their only glimpse of this majestic animal in photos.
It’s an epic struggle for survival. National Geographic reports there were over a million lions in Africa in the 1800’s. By the 1940’s their population had declined to 450,000, and today the estimated lion population is fewer than 20,000, a decrease of about 50% since 1993. And their numbers continue to decline, even in protected areas.
While trophy hunting is regulated, the rules are consistently abused. Lions are lured out of protected areas, and pride males and young males are illegally taken out of the reproductive pool. On the average, an estimated 665 lions are killed in this way each year.
While corruption and illegal hunting plays a large part, it is not the only reason for the declining lion population in Africa. Human habitation and farming is pushing the lion out of its habitat. Their prey is being depleted, making domestic livestock the target of the hunt. In spite of laws in place to prohibit it, lions are poisoned or shot by local cattle ranchers for raiding livestock. Few are ever prosecuted.
Pesticides and disease are also factors. As their habitat is converted to agriculture and proximity to humans increases, their susceptibility to disease increases.
Already extinct in several African nations, and with declining numbers accelerating, scientists warn the African lion could be fully extinct by 2050.
There has been more publicity surrounding the issue since July of 2015, when Cecil, a 13 year old lion in the Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe was killed by an American trophy hunter. He was lured outside of the park boundary with food, was wounded when shot with a crossbow, then tracked and finished off with a gun 40 hours later. He was skinned, and his head was cut off as a trophy. Two years later, on July 7, 2017, Cecil’s oldest cub, Xanda, met the same fate.
But there’s another side to this story. The story of rural villagers who are forced to move about only in groups when a lion is prowling their village, where collecting water from the river, or firewood for cooking requires a well armed contingent for protection, where children must be warned to walk to school, or to play outside only in large groups and to stay together for safety. Where a 14 year old boy is maimed and killed while protecting his family’s crops from marauding elephants.
According to Live Science, lions have killed more than 560 Tanzanians since 1990. The victims include children playing outside huts and people dragged from their beds.
Some Africans wonder why we in America care more about the African animals than the African people.
I started this blog with a firm opinion, but my research into this issue has left me feeling conflicted. While I don’t have the answers, I hope someone out there is working to prevent these animals, who have roamed this earth for many thousands of years, from becoming extinct, and at the same time, protect the people who must live with them.
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