A lion is one of the most instantly recognizable animals in the world. Additionally, it happens to be the second largest cat on the planet. It is only surpassed by the tiger as the world’s biggest cat. As a species, they are classified within the family of cats known as the Felidae. This includes other species of cats, such as tigers, leopards, and jaguars. Lions are ferocious animals that represent strength and courage, so we immediately associate them with these attributes. As a whole, lions are incredibly amazing animals. In spite of this, the lion population does seem to be on the decline. Let’s find out just how many lions are left in the world and what’s being done about it.
How Many Lions Are Left In The World?
As of today, there are only 20,000 lions left in the world, according to Panthera. In spite of this, it has been difficult to accurately estimate how many lions are left in the world. The reason for this is the fact that there are a significant number of lions found outside of conservation areas. Nevertheless, this is a significant reduction in their numbers in the wild, which is a bad sign. Until about a hundred years ago, there was likely a population of more than 200,000 lions roaming the wild in Africa at any given time. Over the past 20 years, it is estimated that around a third of the African lion population has disappeared.
Once upon a time, the lion roamed across most of Africa and parts of Europe as well as parts of Asia. At the present time, however, the lion has been confined to about 20% of its original historic range in order to survive in the wild. So how did lions become classified as endangered? Let’s examine the factors contributing to the decline of lions.
How Did Lions Become Endangered?
According to IUCN’s Red List of Threatened Species, lions are listed as “vulnerable”. The lion population, however, is still plummeting at an unprecedented rate in some parts of Africa. They are classified as “critically endangered” in these areas. The current predicament of lions is a result of several factors.
These factors include:
Loss of Habitat
So many animals are threatened by habitat loss, which is the leading cause of wildlife extinction. Lions are no exception to this. By 2050, sub-Saharan Africa’s population will double, resulting in more habitats being converted to agriculture. In order to develop and grow agriculture, the land is being cleared to make way for development, which is displacing lions (and a number of other animals) from their natural habitats.
It has been estimated that lions in Africa currently occupy less than 92% of their original habitat. Savanna grasslands are essential to the survival of lions, as they provide food, mate, and allow pride to live successfully. In addition to shrinking habitats, lions are also being pushed closer to humans due to these trends. Lions are forced into villages because there are no habitats available. As a result, they hunt livestock that communities rely on to survive. Lions that get too close to the communities end up being killed.
Illegal Wildlife Trade
Among all the illegal trades in the world, the illegal trade of wildlife is the fourth largest. The rapid growth of lion poaching is a new concern for wild lion populations. The poaching of lion bones poses a major threat since some countries, such as Laos, Vietnam, and China, use them for medicinal purposes. Asian traditional medicines use lion parts and derivatives as substitutes for tiger bones because they are perceived to have medicinal and curative properties.
Conservation groups also consider the legal sport hunting of lions a significant threat, although it is more controversial. While trophy hunting is illegal in certain parts of Africa, many hunters pay corrupt conservationists a fee to allow them to hunt. There are also a handful of African tribes who pose a threat to these animals. It is considered important in some cultures to kill a lion as part of a ritual.
There has been a dramatic decline in lion populations over the past few years due to an unrelenting spread of diseases. It is now becoming clearer and clearer that as lions get pushed out of their natural habitats, there is an increased risk of them contracting illnesses from livestock. As a result, they end up spreading the illness to other members of their pride as well. In South Africa, bovine tuberculosis has also greatly hurt the lion population. Morbillivirus has killed around 30% of the Serengeti lion population.
Lion Conservation Efforts
Studying and conserving lions is crucial to protecting the species and raising its numbers if they are to survive. In Africa, there are a variety of lion conservation areas which are some of the best in the world. A large percentage of the world’s current lion population and the surrounding area are protected in these sanctuaries. A number of the centers have active projects where they are involved in studying the lions as well as placing them under laws that protect them.
In order to establish effective conservation strategies, the African Wildlife Foundation’s researchers study carnivore populations, behavior, movements, and interactions with people. To educate locals and international visitors on the issue of declining lion populations, Kenya has developed a unique program that is integrated into its tourism strategy.
Will The Lion Ever Completely Disappear?
In response to the IUCN Redlist listing for endangered species, many conservation efforts have been implemented to help protect lion populations. There is a good chance we will see certain lion populations go extinct in the near future, however, the species as a whole is unlikely to disappear completely. A number of well-managed and large protected areas in Africa host large lion populations today as a result of conservation efforts. By educating others, you can also play an important role in saving the king of the jungle. As we now understand, these dwindling numbers are caused by trophy hunting, habit degradation, and poaching. Conservation of lions requires educating others about these factors.
The photo featured at the top of this post is © Gunther Allen/Shutterstock.com
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