As human populations expand, more and more of the lion’s habitat is being lost. Lions are also losing their natural prey to illegal poaching, or dying a slow and painful death in a poacher’s wire snare. As lions come into more frequent contact with humans they are being shot, speared and poisoned in retaliation for killing livestock on which communities rely. Adding to the problem are unsustainable trophy hunting practices, the trade in lion bones to meet the increasing demands of Far East traditional medicine markets, multiple diseases - often transferred from domestic animals, the impacts of climate change and the effects of inbreeding depression.
The loss of lions within Africa’s fragile ecosystems can result in serious and unpredictable consequences throughout the food chain. Lions are important in the complex system that maintains biodiversity amongst herbivore species by regulating population size of the most dominant of those species, such as zebra and buffalo. Without lions to control them, these dominant species can out-compete other animals, causing their extinction. Lions also help to control the spread of disease by removing the weak and elderly animals in the herds of their preferred prey. Tourists contribute significantly to the local and national economies of countries that still maintain lion populations. If lions disappear, the livelihoods of those that rely on the income tourism generates will be lost, particularly in Africa’s most needy rural communities. As the economy of these regions become suppressed, so social development also slows. We must also not forget that the African lion is an important symbol, not only to many African cultural groups, but as a national icon for many African countries. Its image is also an icon to the majority of people around the world. Our planet will be impoverished if the African lion exists only as statues, pictures and stories.
As an African-founded and based organisation, ALERT is ideally placed to be able to tackle African challenges with African solutions; solutions that are therefore relevant to the people of Africa with which we work and who live alongside wildlife. ALERT is working to generate locally conceived, locally relevant and long term solutions through a process they term responsible development. By uniting with communities and policy makers, with conservation managers, researchers and business leaders, the best decisions can be made for Africa’s people, its environment and its wildlife. Together we combine our expertise, knowledge and funding to generate real, long-lasting, cost efficient and responsible solutions to habitat protection; solutions that are reflected in policy of national governments all the way through the structure of society to the actions of the individual. This approach is not designed to be a quick fix and requires time, cooperation and money if it is to succeed.
To complement the responsible development approach, the four-stage African Lion Rehabilitation and Release into the Wild Program aims to create a source of disease free lions for reintroduction into the wild when conditions allow. We currently have two semi-wild-living lion prides of captive origin that have already been released through this program. The Ngamo pride, released first, now includes five second generation cubs that have natural skills and behaviours comparable to any wild-born lion. It is these cubs that will be reintroduced into Africa’s national parks and reserves when they are old enough.
African lion populations are continuing to decline. In the last few years alone, out of 86 identified sub-populations of lions across Africa, around a fifth have been declared lost, and more are on the brink of extinction. Africa needs lions. An Africa without lions is an Africa that has lost its soul. We cannot be the generation that allows this to happen.