Endangered Species: Lions

by - August 20, 2016

Lions are never thought of as endangered. In fact few people realise they could be facing extinction in the wild. Their official conservation status is 'Vulnerable', and so they come under the umbrella term of being threatened. I would guess that if you asked 100 people if lions were endangered, the majority would say no. However there are a number of challenges facing lions that threaten the species. There are only about 20k wild lions across the continent of Africa. 

I've recently discovered Kevin Richardson's YouTube channel and the work he's doing. If you haven't heard of "The Lion Whisperer", as he is also known I recommend checking out his YouTube and website. He is working extremely hard to spread the message about the plight of lions, and all the problems they face, while looking after a great number of lions and other beautiful Africa animals. Since finding his channel, I have become a big fan and love watching his videos so have a look! The reason I mention him is because he is very vocal about the threats to lions, both in captivity and in the wild and I have learnt of  what I want to talk about from him through his youtube/website/twitter/instagram. I also spent a month this summer volunteering at a wonderful sanctuary with big cats in South Africa and so I learnt a lot there too. 

Conflicts between humans and lions over livestock has caused many problems for lions, and is arguably the strongest threat to lions. Lions that attack both people and livestock nearly always end up being killed. Both pre-emptive killings and retaliatory killings of lions by rural people are colossal threats to lions. 
Another example of human-lion conflict is lions getting caught in snares used for bush meat hunting. Snares are set up for the hope of warthog, antelope or other forms of bush meat. This is illegal and often other animals get caught in them, including lions. It is known as the "Silent Killer".

Another big and important threat to lions in Africa is habitat loss. Habitat loss leads to isolation which in turn leads to genetic isolation and inbreeding between wild lions. Inbreeding between lions is dangerous, and that's why breeding within captivity often results in difficulties genetically for the lions. Lions are being pushed out of their habitats into less and less land. Conflicts between people and lions often lead to increased habitat loss also. 

I can't write a lion post and not talk about Canned Hunting. I've written a whole post about this which you can read so I'm going to try not to repeat myself, or go into too much detail about what Canned Hunting is (if you want to know more, click here). Canned Hunting or captive-bred hunting are obviously threats to captive lions as they are drugged and killed when in their prime. They often don't get to live any semblance of a normal life for a lion, as the cubs are often snatched away from their parents at a young age, and there aren't prides of families of lions in sanctuaries practising Canned Hunting. The cubs are often hand-reared, when they didn't need to be. 
Canned Hunting also threatens wild lions. It is often argued that captive-bred hunting helps reduce the hunting of wild lions. This is not the case. Lions are often taken from the wild to prevent inbreeding of captive lions, and many people would much rather hunt a wild lion because its a fair chase. Therefore, the industry for captive bred hunting was created unnecessarily. Trophy hunters, or people who hunt lions in the wild, are obviously a threat too. Social media is often outraged by this, especially after Cecil was shot in 2015. 

Trade in lion bones threatens the lion population, used in traditional medicine in the far east as lion bone wine, which is also used as a substitute for tiger bone wine. It is legal to sell the bones from a lion, and the thinking is that if the demand can be supplied from captive lions, often the victim of canned hunts, then the wild lions should be left alone. However it is impossible to know whether the bones being sold came from a captive or wild lion. Another major issue with this, is that there is evidence to suggest lions are being smuggled from the wild to captivity which is illegal. This also severely threatens the status of lions in the wild. Unsurprisingly, money is the main driver of this. Bringing in wild lions prevents inbreeding and so fuels the Canned Hunting industry, but a lion skeleton can be sold on top of the price of shooting the lion. A lion skeleton could fetch up to $1,560 without a skull and $2,100 with a skull. This lucrative market means more captive owners are likely to join, and lion poaching also becomes a major threat. 
There are also large discrepancies between the number of wild lions hunted, and the number of lions being exported. Between 2004 and 2010, 1138 more lions were exported from South Africa than were hunted. Lions were also being exported to Laos in 2009, without any record of anyone from Laos hunting lions. This suggests a certain level of corruption happening when it comes to lion breeding, and that people are in it for the money. 

All in all, there are a great number of threats to lions, and to say they are not endangered is wrong. A big issue I have noticed amongst these threats, is that they are extremely interlinked. Therefore, to help protect lions, these threats all need to be addressed, especially creating a world where lions and people can co-exist without conflict. 

*all photos taken by me of happy, healthy lions*

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