WILL LIONS BE EXTINCT BY 2050+?
The lion population is dwindling and could become extinct by 2050. Discover what you can do to help protect this incredible species.
Lions are largely considered one of the most loved animals and their impact on the world is evident. Sadly, the population of lions is rapidly decreasing; in just two decades, the lion population has decreased by a shocking -43%,with a mere 23,000 lions left in the wild today making them a critically endangered animal.
It may surprise you to learn that lions once had one of the largest distribution ranges of any terrestrial mammal in the world. However, the symbol of Born Free is facing grave threats today, including habitat loss, persecution due to human-lion conflict, poaching and the impacts of climate change not least more frequent droughts.
The history of lions paints a familiar picture of what the species is experiencing today. Prowling across four of the seven continents of our planet, the American lion carved out a home in North and South America and was the first of the modern lion species to go extinct around 14,000 years ago. At the same time, the cave lions which roamed across Eurasia, Alaska and Yukon, living (and dying) alongside early humans went extinct. Their extinction has recently been attributed, at least in part, to over-hunting by humans.
Modern lion species, which diverged from cave lions approximately 500,000 years ago, disappeared from southwestern Eurasia around 300 years ago and, more recently, the Middle East. The highly localised populations of Barbary and Cape lions then died out in the middle of the 20th century – both driven to extinction by hunters and loss of habitat. Surviving modern day lions now occupy restricted ranges in sub-Saharan Africa and a small, isolated population of Asiatic lions in the Gir Forest National Park and Wildlife Sanctuary, India. Given the history we know, and the fact anthropogenic and environment threats have pushed the current lion population to merely 20,000 individuals, would it be so unbelievable to think that lions, as we know them today, may go extinct by 2050?
What would happen if lions went extinct?
Setting aside the loss of pure magic and legendary awesomeness of lions and our deep-rooted connection with the popular animal species, their demise would pave the way for a catastrophic chain of events, forever changing some of the planet’s most iconic ecosystems.
Without lions as an apex predator, herbivore populations would swell and their voracious appetites would lead to overgrazing, shifting habitat types and reducing plant biodiversity. In turn, desertification and erosion caused by overgrazing would impact the quality and quantity of water and forage sources until there is so few resources available that the over-inflated herbivore population crashes.
People would suffer as well. Without lions to keep other predators and scavengers in check, their numbers and their boldness can explode, leading to greater human-wildlife conflicts. People would also lose out on tourist dollars, who, every year, flock to Africa to see the African Lions. Without this revenue, many communities would face increased economic hardship and poverty. The collapse of an ecosystem would also ruin the livelihoods of millions of peoples who rely on pasture to graze livestock and other sustainable harvested resources.
The Biggest Threats to Lions
Humans are the key cause of this devastating decline and with the current rate of poaching and habitat loss, lions could be completely extinct by 2050. To understand the context and severity, here are some of the biggest threats the lion population faces daily.
The illegal wildlife trade is growing at an astonishing rate and accounts for 35% of all known human caused lion killings. Lion poaching is rapidly sweeping across Africa and is already being reported in Zimbabwe, South Africa, Tanzania and Uganda. Organised crime groups often target impoverished areas and offer money to locals to assist them to kill lions.
The body parts highest in demand are claws, bones and teeth and demand is thought to be derived from wealthy Asian countries, such as China and Vietnam where luxury lion products such as lion bone wine are becoming increasingly popular.
The effect of lion poaching is truly devastating and will impact the lion population both directly and indirectly. Lions are extremely sociable animals and are at their happiest when in a pride of around 15. The loss of pride members as a result of poaching could majorly disrupt the rest of the pride, impacting their social cohesion, defending of their territories and hunting success.
Loss of Habitat
Another key driver for the dwindling lion population is the increase in wild land being harvested for agriculture, which is forcing many wild species out of their natural habitats. Across Africa, lions have disappeared from 94% of the land they once occupied, which once spanned the entirety if the continent, but now covers less than 660,000 square miles.
Habitat destruction has serious consequences on lion populations, with them no longer having access to vast areas of the Savanna grassland, meaning they are limited when looking for food and mating partners. This is also pushing lions to hunt closer to human communities and kill livestock that the communities rely on for financial income. This often leaves no option but to kill the lions so that they can protect their livestock.
Climate change is another factor that is contributing to the fading lion populations. Their survival will ultimately depend on their ability to adapt to the changing ecosystems and extreme weather conditions, such as droughts, flooding and storms.
Extreme weather conditions caused by climate change and global warming often pose further challenges for lions as it can influence the availability of prey and access to water, ultimately affecting their survival. Such weather conditions have also seen lions being driven out of protected reserves into areas where there will be greater conflict with humans.
Solutions to Protecting Lions
There are many ways that we can all help make the world a better place for lions and reduce the harmful impact that we as humans are having on this incredible species:
1. Adopt a Lion
When you adopt a lion, you will make a monthly contribution or a one-off payment which will help fund projects to protect the endangered species and reduce human-lion conflict. At Born Free, our lion conservation projects that your adoption will help to support include:
- The rescue, care and support of endangered lions saved from exploitation in our big cat sanctuary in South Africa.
- The monitoring of wild populations to inform conservation efforts.
- Campaigning against the exploitation of lions.
- The running of educational programmes for local communities.
Funding these projects with your adoption will help to minimise the life-threatening impact that the world is having on lions and prevent the decline of their population.
2. Support Fundraising Events
There are a vast range of fundraising events that work to support the protection of lions and donations to these events will go to further supporting the conservation projects.
2022 marks what would have been the 100th birthday of Bill Travers MBE, who was renowned for his incredible lion conservation work. At Born Free, we are honouring his work with our ‘Year of the Lion’ campaign. This includes various fundraising events that will help fund our vital lion conservation work. Events include our UK wide lion exhibition, Born Free Forever, which showcases incredible bronze lion sculptures. The ‘Mane Event’ taking place in September, further supports this campaign; we invite you to join us for an evening of live entertainment to support and celebrate the magnificent species.
3. Spread The Word!
Unfortunately, not everyone is aware of just how critical this situation is, so sharing facts, statistics and thoughts around this issue will help bring this to people’s attention. The more people aware of just how vulnerable the lion population is, the more chance of a difference being made. Every action, big or small, will help to slow this rapid declining population and provide lions with the chance of survival.
Act Now and Help Protect Endangered Lions
The hope is that the efforts of Born Free and many other like-minded organisations can turn the tide for lions. The alarm has certainly sounded, but conservationists have the tools and the ideas to not only halt the decline of lions but boost their population. Across their range, people are working to cease poaching activities, halt trophy hunting, mitigate human-lion conflict, regenerate lion habitat, prevent and treat diseases and help communities live with carnivores.
In Kenya, our efforts in two key lion landscapes, including Meru National Park, where we monitor and protect the park’s lion population, and in the Amboseli Ecosystem where we work with local communities to mitigate human-lion conflict and encourage co-existence, have contributed to an increase in the total African lion population in Kenya, up from 2,000 to 2,489 individuals, over the last decade.
These aren’t just figures, our teams have lived in the bush, side-by-side these lions, sharing their triumphs and their tragedies, watching as Elsa’s pride, for example, led and guided by the formidable Mang’erete, Liz, Makena and Elsa have carved out their territory in Meru National Park, one of the richest places in the world for the history of lions.
Dr Caroline N’gweno, Born Free’s Pride of Meru Manager said “Our global environmental challenges are massive and urgent. That is why we invest in innovation and collaboration, in an effort to conserve the ecosystems where lions live and promote coexistence with these magnificent species. Our effort to create a world where all life thrives is only possible when we partner with allies across the globe to realize effective conservation work in Meru Landscape (Kenya’s Key ecosystem). We do this using education, science, community sensitization, and providing evidence for actionable conservation actions.”
These gains aren’t being experienced in all areas and many populations across Africa are still on the precipice of collapse. We need more voices to advocate for lions and more funding for conservation action, which is why you support has never been more valuable.
We must act now to help minimise the effect that human life is having on lions. Explore all the ways that you can take action and help us to protect this endangered species. Find out more about Born Free’s compassionate conservation in action: Conservation Report 2021-22