The wild African lion faces an uncertain future, experts have warned.
This is sad, coming at a time images of lions are associated with the breathtaking beauty of Africa and Kenya in particular as the home of the awe-inspiring animal christened the ‘king of the jungle’.
Africa’s lion population has almost halved in the past 25 years.
In Kenya, they are listed as an endangered species by the Wildlife Conservation and Management Act 2013.
According to World Animal Protection, the iconic species is facing a widespread decline with fewer than 25,000 lions estimated to remain across the African continent.
The dwindling numbers of wild African lions can partly be attributed to the global wildlife trade.
Additional threats to the magnificent beast’s existence include loss and fragmentation of habitat due to increasing encroachment on rangeland, game-meat poaching, and human-lion conflict.
Lions, scientifically known as Panthera leo, are communal, free-range carnivores that live and hunt in groups called pride.
They are now classified by the IUCN as vulnerable, with the West African sub-species placed in the critically endangered category.
In a bid to protect the species that is a big tourist attraction, Kenya has developed and adopted the National Recovery and Action Plan for Lions and Spotted Hyena. The document was released in July 2020.
According to Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) Director, General Brig. (Rtd) J. M. Waweru, the plan was developed within a common, consultative structure for the conservation of endangered species in Kenya.
Lions play important ecological roles within savannah ecosystems, including influencing the abundance, behavior, and distribution of prey.
In the plan, the possible range of breeding lion populations in Kenya is thought to be roughly 86,940 square kilometers, with 41 percent of lion range falling within Kenya’s National Parks and Reserves, 40.8 percent located in conservancies and 18 percent found outside protected areas or conservancies.
Additionally, an estimated 4,037,552 people and 21,630,754 livestock live within 10 kilometers of the lion range.
Government estimates for the number of lions living in Kenya show that the population has increased by 25 percent from 2,000 in 2010 to the current 2,489.
“Lions are notoriously difficult to count accurately since they naturally occur at low density, are nocturnal, not easily observable and wide-ranging.
Working with wardens in their habitats, the surveys established that Kenya has an estimated population of about 2,489 lions,” reads the report.
While the news of the increase in lion numbers is a reason to celebrate the success of the country’s conservation efforts, Born Free co-founder and executive president, Will Tavers, chose to express cautious optimism while calling for increased effort to prevent the big cats’ extinction.
“Since 2010, conservationists have estimated wild lions in Kenya to number 2,000.
This new figure indicates all the incredible effort that has been put into lion conservation by so many – Kenya Wildlife Service, Born Free, Big Life, Ewaso Lions, Northern Rangelands Trust and many more, including local communities – is paying off,” said Mr. Tavers.
“I believe this is a sign for cautious optimism and we may yet drag wild lions back from the brink. Inspired by this, we must do more,” he added.
Prof. Fred Segor, who is the Principal Secretary in the State Department of Wildlife, says Kenya’s Recovery Plan has identified threats facing lions and has prescribed actions that should be undertaken to realize their population’s recovery.
“Key among the objectives of the plan is the need to work with communities, to consolidate efforts among all stakeholders, the need for continuous monitoring to establish population status and distribution across landscapes, and adoption of conservation units for targeted actions,” wrote Prof. Segor in the document.
According to World Animal Protection, the human-wildlife conflicts, poaching, and legalized wildlife trade have also slashed lion populations in Africa.
“Human-wildlife conflicts, legal wildlife trade poaching and poisoning of the animals have been responsible for decimating lions on the continent. I implore you all to desist from practices that harm lions.
This includes visiting and supporting places that keep lions in captivity. Lions are voiceless. They need our voice. Collectively, we can help lions to live a better life,” said Ms. Kabesiime on Lion Day, which is marked on August 10.
She commended South Africa for the pledge to end the practice of keeping and profiting from captive lions.
“It is encouraging to see some African countries like South Africa making commitments to shift from the practice of breeding and keeping lions in captivity, using captive lions or their derivatives commercially,” Ms. Kabesiime said.
According to the animal rights lobby, lions suffer at every stage of their life in breeding farms, and this close contact with humans also increases the risk of zoonotic diseases, infecting their handlers.
“Intensive captive conditions increase the risk of zoonotic disease transmission. Ending the trade in wild animals is not only good for the animals, but also for the people.
As the world struggles to respond to the current global health pandemic, it is more important now than ever to be aware of public health risks from contact with wild animals and to reduce risks wherever possible,” reads the lobby’s Lion Day web write-up.
Ms. Kabesiime has urged other African nations to follow South Africa’s example, adding that it is time for the exploitative practices to end.
“We hope South Africa, China and Singapore will follow through with the policy to ensure that this unfortunate practice is brought to an end. We must change the dominant narrative that wildlife is an object for us to use and abuse. We must safeguard their habitats,” she said.
According to World Animal Protection, the tourism industry that has long depended on the existence of lions may be set for a major shock if the species becomes extinct.
This is because of the commercially successful practices like licensed big game hunting, trade in wildlife products and keeping animals captive.
“For many years, African countries have been the go-to tourist destinations to experience safaris with the key target being spotting the African lion in the wild.
These scenarios may not be the case in the near future if nothing is done to end the captive lion breeding industry where lions are bred and raised in captivity for commercial purposes,” said Ms. Elsa Kansibe, who heads the World Africa Protection’s wildlife campaigns in Africa.
“Other practices that threaten lion life include canned trophy hunting, cub petting, walking with lion experiences and trade in lion bones for traditional medicine.
Captive lion industry threatens the survival of lions and has a negative impact on tourism, public health and safety,” Ms. Kabesiime added.
World Animal Protection is calling for punitive action against those who trade in wildlife products like animal skins, teeth and bones.
“There is need for states to take bold steps through enacting and enforcing laws that heavily punish those involved in wildlife trade. Wild animals can no longer be reduced to commodities simply to be cruelly exploited by humans without any regard for their lives or welfare.
Countries need to enact animal welfare and environmental policies that protect individual wild animals and allow them the right to a life in the wild,” says the lobby.
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