Photo credit: Yagan Keily
As in, gone from the wild. Kaput. Lions, one of the most iconic big cats -- indeed, one of the most beloved animals the world over -- have been undergoing a rapid decline over the last 50 years. In 1960, there were 450,000 lions in the wild. In 2010, there were 20,000. Do the math: If this trajectory continues, we will be living in a lion-less world in just over a decade. This unfortunate fact got some attention a few months back, when the National Geographic's Dereck and Beverly Loubert were touring in support of their cautionary documentary 'the Last Lions'. But not nearly enough. That prospect resurfaced yesterday in an article over on the Digital Journal, and it brought the thoroughly day-ruining news to light all over again.
Photo: fortherock via Flickr/CC BY-SA
What's behind the precipitous drop in lion populations across Africa? Treehugger Jessica Root tallied up the main causes in her review of the Lions film:
- Human encroachment carving into the wild terrain, which the lions need to dwell and hunt.
- Too high a permissible amount of male lions taken in safari hunts.
- The burgeoning and increasing demand for lion bones-- as substitutes for the unsustainable and popular use of tiger bones-- in Asian folk remedies.
Number 1 is a problem the world over, and impacts species of every stripe -- and it's one we've got to get better at addressing, and fast. Number 2 is a matter of poor African nations catering to a lucrative tourist trade, sadly but understandably so. It's another hard one to tackle, especially since rich assholes who go on these safaris have proven quite resilient to shame on this front -- though such nations should have a keen interest in preserving lion populations, if only to promote non-hunting safaris.
As for Number 3: Damn you, Asian folk remedies. The prominence of these 'exotic medicines' is also largely responsible for the decimation of tiger populations, and they remain a deeply-rooted cultural force. The black market trade of tiger, and now lion, parts has proven ruthlessly difficult to deter.
In short: Lions, like tigers, are in big, big trouble. Not to get overly grim or anything, but your grandchildren may indeed grow up in a world where these big cats only exist in nature documentaries and zoos -- symbolic relics from an era in which majestic wildlife the world over had yet to be stamped out by reckless, ever-expanding human populations.