Lions may soon go away, and never return. Mufasa is in trouble, and it’s not a stampede coming to get him, but the humans. Scientists are predicting that the lion’s dynasty may last a mere fifteen years longer before they’re all extinct.
The role of the lion in Africa is similar to the wolf in North America, both are top predators and both are keystone species to their ecosystems. Anyone who knows the history of Yellowstone can tell you that wolves are a hot topic. Wolves help control the resident populations of deer and elk. Deer and elk destroy their environments and ecosystems when left unchecked by natural predators like wolves. Wolves regulate the population of herbivores so that they do not over-graze their environment, which could lead to erosion, and destruction of habitats where other animals live. Lions and wolves, being keystone species, hold the rest of their eco-systems in place. The need for wolves in Yellowstone has been realized since wolf-extermination that began in 1925, which successfully annihilated the native wolf population. In March 1995, Alaskan wolves were re-introduced into the area to restore the eco-system. The role of the lion has not been fully recognized and scientist fear that once it is, it will be too late. Unlike North American wolves, if the African lions die out there is not an “Alaskan breed of Lion” or alternative breed available that could be introduced to fix the problem.
The worst-case scenario is that African lions have already reached a point so close to extinction that restoration efforts are futile. The World Conservation Union stated, “There is not a single population of lions in West or Central Africa that is large enough to be viable [for population restoration].” (New Scientist), The article also states that the amount of lions living in East Africa is unknown, meaning there is a possible hope for restoration there.
A “viable population” is considered to be a pride with 1000 animals, aka 500 breeding pairs. The numbers are as such because this is the minimum amount of species required to start up a population without inbreeding. Currently, there may be a total population of over 1000 lions in East Africa; however, the population is fragmented with rival prides.
For every one male lion killed an estimated 20-30 lions die in the aftermath, this is because each male lion has a key role in his pride and when they are killed it is an opportunity for rival prides to attack and slay cubs. (CNN) Male cubs, and female lions trying to protect them, are killed as spoils of war for one pride of lions when another pride falls victim to poaching. Humans incite these battles, which have taken a toll on virtually all lions in some way or another.
Dereck and Beverly Joubert are responsible for creating several lion-themed documentaries to inspire conservation efforts. These documentaries include: The Last Lions, Living with Big Cats, and Big Cat Odyssey. “95 percent of the big cats have vanished over a 50-year period,” Said Beverly Joubert, adding, “that’s about the time we have been alive”. Beverly also stated that Dereck, and her inspiration for making the films is “We try to create awareness of how quickly we are losing these cats and we could lose them in 15 years.” (Digital Journal)
According to Treehugger.com, in 1960, there were 45,000 lions in the wild; in 2010, this number dropped to 20,000. It does not take a serious mathematician to realize that if the population decline continues as it has been, there will be no lions left within the decade (give or take a few years). (Treehugger.com)
To counteract the decreasing lion population three things would have to happen:
- Protection of Lion habitat
- End lion hunting/ poaching
- More restrictions on big cat trading (to reduce the risk of poaching and increase fines for those caught hunting lions).
The lion has been a symbolic animal for Africa, much like the Bald Eagle is for America, but what if Africa didn’t have lions? This is a scenario that is a statistically justifiable to be come a reality within 15 years. The African ecosystems could be next to collapse if they lose the lion as their keystone species; to quote Dereck Joubert: “Erosion follows, rivers silt up, and fish die, all because we took out a few lions.” (CNN)
Where will Simba go? Now that Mufasa has been crushed under the weight of… us.