Besides being the King of Beasts, the African Lion plays a crucial role in their environment. Without them, entire ecosystems can falter.
At times we may wonder…
How much do we really know about African lions? What is their current conservation status? Why are these lions significant? Once we know about these lions, how can we help them?
General facts about the African Lion…
Lions are the “King of the Jungle” — they dominate their environment as strong and brave creatures. Male lions are larger than their female counterparts. A male lion weighs in the range of 330 to 500 pounds, and has an average lifespan of 10 to 14 years. The African lion’s diet consists of animals such as zebra, giraffe, buffalo and rhino. According to Defenders of Wildlife, there are fewer than 21,000 African lions remaining on the entire African continent today. Lions are now only found in the south Sahara desert, and southern and eastern Africa.
Their current conservation status…
The African lion’s current conservation and protection status is ‘vulnerable’ under CITES. According to the Scientific American blog, they will be near extinction by the year 2050 — which is not too far in the future, when we stop and think about it. In March 2011, Born Free USA (among others) petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to reclassify the African lion as “endangered” under the U.S. Endangered Species Act. With the tragic trophy hunting of Cecil the lion in Zimbabwe in July 2015, the hope is this will be considered more seriously.
African Lion’s role in the ecosystem…
Lions play a key role in the food chain by helping to control the herbivore population. If the herbivore population is not regulated, the increase of competition among them would cause some to go extinct and thus reduce biodiversity. The lions have a reputation of being the ‘chief’ predator of their habitat as they are known to even kill large herbivores such as elephants and giraffes.
Lions prey mainly on herd animals. Nature comes to play as lions take down the weakest of the herd. This keeps the herd population resilient and healthy. If lions did not exist, there would be a symbiotic relationship between parasites and herd animals. This way, parasites could increase and spread throughout the herd, resulting in fewer healthy animals.
Smaller Carnivores: Olive Baboons
Where predators like lions do not exist, smaller carnivores tend to increase. Smaller carnivores such as olive baboons will reproduce more and cause complications for farmers by destroying their crops and livestock, and spreading diseases.
Current news about the African Lion…
As the human population increases, the lion’s habitat is more and more threatened. As humans encroach on what was once the lion’s territory, human-wildlife conflicts increase. When farmers’ livestock push out antelopes, lions begin killing cattle. In turn farmers will poison lions. However, some have found solutions to stop the killing with something as simple as lights. [Update January 2019: Marnus is working on an amazing project… saving the lions and their home]
Dentist Walter James Palmer recently made news for killing “Cecil the Lion” in Zimbabwe, Africa. Palmer not only killed the lion, but skinned, beheaded, and left him on the outskirts of the national park. The hunters who did it tried to remove and destroy Cecil’s collar to cover their tracks. The media, celebrities and activist groups such as PETA reacted by sending hate emails and letters to Palmer for killing a well-known, protected lion loved by the locals. He allegedly paid someone USD$55,000 to kill and mutilate “Cecil the Lion” and is now faced with poaching charges. Because of men like Palmer, African lions are closer to extinction than we expected. The moral of the story is that locals, activists, and conservation groups need to be more cautious of their protected lions from big trophy hunters like Palmer.
How you can help to protect African Lions…
There are different ways to help protect these majestic creatures:
First, one can inform others about the conservation status of the African lion.
Second, help organizations by signing petitions for gaining approval of the U.S law that would make it against the law to sell lions or their parts across states and international borders.
Third, one can look for organizations — either national or global — that specialize in conserving lions.
Fourth, learn how to appreciate African lions and their habitats.
Fifth, we can donate to help those like Marnus who protect lions and their entire ecosystem.
Contributed by Nikela Volunteer Monserrat Gomez
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