South African Lions
sponsored by Coastland Center
The King of Beasts
In Lagoon Loop near the cruise, enjoy an up close experience with two South African lions (Panther leo krugeri). Accredited zoos have the responsibility to provide safe havens for purebred animals that represent their relatives in the wild. The genetics of these cats can be directly traced to southern African populations.
In order to maintain a healthy and genetically diverse population outside the wild for at least 100 years, these South African lions participate in a Species Survival Plan® coordinated by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.
The Legendary Lion
Over the ages, lions have captured the imaginations of people – from Sri Lankan folklore to Neanderthal cave paintings. In more recent times, lions continue to represent courage and majesty as seen in the pages of the Bible to the symbols used by earthly governments across the world from the heraldic shield of King Richard the Lion-Heart to today’s banknotes in India.
In the 19th century, modern lions could be seen roaming throughout all Africa, Arabia, the Middle East, and northwestern India. And while the 20th century witnessed the rapid slaughter of the world’s spotted and striped cats, the lion’s monochrome coat appeared to provide them immunity from the public’s fashion tastes and the poachers’ attentions. As the world was made aware of the desperate fate of tigers, leopards, and ocelots, lions faded from the limelight, seemingly safe.
A Monarchy in Rapid Decline
Sadly, appearances were deceiving. While tourists easily clicked photographs of lions in Africa’s famous parks, the king of beast’s once vast kingdom was dramatically reduced. Recently, as part of a comprehensive analysis of the conservation needs of African carnivores, Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) biologists determined lions survive in less than twenty percent of their historical African range. Research by the African Wildlife Foundation tells a similarly alarming story. In rough figures, the number of lions in Africa has plummeted as much as 75% in just the last two decades.
Mapping Data Courtesy of Wildlife Conservation Society
Expanding human settlements are confining Africa's lions to smaller and more fragmented habitats where they often run up against local people and their livestock. Shooting and poisoning lions as livestock pests is one of the most serious threats to lions today. If current trends continue much longer, the powerful symbol of the mighty lion may soon be all that’s left.
A Plan of Action
In collaboration with wildlife groups, more than 50 of the world’s leading lion specialists crafted a plan for saving the species. The result is the first comprehensive, expert-based strategy to protect the species throughout its African range, from South Africa to Senegal.
As some of these issues are not new, related programs have already yielded success in small areas. Working in central Kenya’s Laikipia district, biologists have already demonstrated that pastoralists can significantly reduce their predator problems by adopting some very basic precautions. And as lions can draw tourist dollars, insuring local communities benefit may be the key to even better local support.
Along with local support, Dr. Luke Hunter (right) secures a radio collar on a lion to gain critical information to help Africa's lions. Hunter is currently the Executive Director of Panthera
A World of Possibilities
Against great odds, the tigers of Asia survived the 20th century because the world’s attention was captured. Education about the plight of tigers across the West altered consumer tastes for fur coats worn by the wealthy. Professional advertising campaigns in urban centers in Asia are beginning to deplete demand for expensive traditional medicines containing tiger body parts. These worldwide campaigns can then lead to reduced pressure to kill tigers in rural areas.
Now at the opening of the 21st century, the lion, the iconic king of beasts, faces an equally dire threat. But the challenge for lions is the reverse of tigers. The critical education must be done locally in lion habitat in impoverished rural Africa. Yet if our world is to continue to have lions, education cannot stop there. The grassroots efforts in places like Serengeti and Selous must be collaboratively supported by an awareness of the situation in places like Naples and New York to generate international support, tourist safari trips, and donor dollars.
The Naples Zoo Conservation Fund supports initiatives that seek to balance the needs of people and wildlife. With your help, Africa may yet see the return of her king.