African lions, who were once seen as “kings” of the wild, are almost endangered. In fact, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) classifies lions as “vulnerable to extinction.” If the problem worsens, lions may be officially identified as an endangered species in the near future.
Over the past 21 years, the lion population has declined 42 percent. It is estimated that there are now less than 25,000 African lions left in the wild. Furthermore, the lions left only inhabit about 6 percent of the space where they once roamed.
What is Causing the Decline?
Poaching is a big contributor to the decline of the lion population. African lions are killed and their claws, teeth, skin, and paws are sold in Africa and Asia. Lion parts are also considered by some to have magical or medicinal powers. Moreover, some poachers kill lions to keep as trophies.
Human encroachment is another problem for lions. People have built roads and settlements in areas where lions once roamed freely, and that has caused lions to live closely with humans in many areas. Lions will often kill livestock and be killed in retaliation, usually by poisoning.
Lastly, the bushmeat trade in Africa has made it more difficult for lions to hunt and find prey. People are hunting and selling the same animals that lions prey on, so lions are unable to find enough food to eat. This is another reason that lions frequently attack livestock.
What We Need To Do To Save Lions
In order to save the existing population of lions and possibly increase their numbers, more funding will be required. It has been estimated that it will cost more than one billion dollars per year to save the lion population, but only about $381 million dollars is currently funding efforts. The lack of money has halted many projects in the past.
One way that funding can be used to conserve the lion population would be to create programs that incentivize local communities to save lions. For example, some efforts have compensated community members when lions kill livestock. This saves the lions from retaliation and allows the farmers to feel less threatened.
The good news is that there is still hope for lions. If the proper funds are secured and the protected areas in Africa can be managed as they should be, then some experts believe the African lion population could triple in the future.