An upcoming celebration that highlights the importance of lions to the environment --World Lion Day -- takes place on August 10.
The African Lion & Environmental Research Trust, or ALERT, a conservation and restoration charity, is one of the organizations that will help to kick off the event. The non-profit organization said the lion is a national icon in Africa. But the lion population has plummeted 80 to 90 percent since 1975 due to a growing human population and illegal poaching.
World Lion Day aims to highlight their plight.
ALERT said the cats are an important component of the food chain, helping to keep animal populations in balance, and they said there is an overwhelming need for reintroducing disease-free lions back into the wild. Many countries depend on lions for millions of dollars in tourism annually.
ALERT aims to generate long-term solutions
so African communities and wildlife can live in harmony. The NGO is the first to successfully introduce designated areas for the protection and rehabilitation of lions.
David Youldon is the Chief Operating Officer, COO, for ALERT. “World Lion Day was an idea based around our experience that when we’re talking about lions with people, so few people appreciate that this is a species that is under severe threat. There are certainly people suggesting that they could go extinct in the next 10 to 20 years, and we were looking for a way to try and raise awareness of the issue, and call for people to support individuals and organizations, so that in Africa and in India as well-- to try and save the species,” explained Youldon, who also pointed out that several problems are putting lion survival at risk.
“Lions are faced with many threats, but the biggest one is the loss of their habitat, as humans continue to encroach on the land that the lions need, even into protected areas. And that’s coupled with a loss of the food source for lions, and humans are poaching out many of the species on which lions rely. Once you have those two things come together, habitat loss and prey-based depletion, lions are being forced into conflict with people,” said Youldon.
The conflict is often seen when lions attack livestock, which provokes herders to retaliate. The COO said it is a conflict that lions simply can’t win.
“These lion populations that are left are now isolated from each other. So, they’re becoming inbred because there’s no natural gene flow between populations. There are disease threats, and that seems to be increasing as humans and our livestock interact with wild animals more frequently. And it will probably become more of an issue as climate change affects how diseases transfer within populations,” he explained.
As predators, lions keep the natural balance by killing the old and sick of their prey. Youldon also emphasized the impact this predation has on the wild life population.
“They also actually control the number of animals of some other species. For example, zebra and buffalo are very dominant herbivore species, and their numbers are mostly controlled by [predators], rather than natural death or death and disease. If those species are not being controlled by lions, then their numbers can grow, and they can start to out compete other herbivore species. Therefore you get a loss of overall biodiversity within an area. Without lions, those smaller predators can increase in number and cause an even greater conflict with humans than lions do because they live in much higher densities than lions do.”
Youldon stressed that lions are revered throughout many cultures around the world, making them an economic benefit the economy through tourism.
He explained that “most people coming to Africa, that is the one animal that they want to make sure that they see. So an area with lions draws tourism. The lion is also culturally important, not just within Africa, not just in India where they currently exist, but the lion is a key symbol for so many cultures whether they’re American, or British, or German, or French, or Chinese, you’ll find the lion very deeply held within almost every culture on earth.”
ALERT and its partners will spend the coming months drumming up attention and support for World Lion Day which will be celebrated on August 10 in Livingstone, Zambia.