World Lion Day is held on August 10th every year falling on the Leo Zodiac sign. This important day was created to act as an awareness-building vehicle to save and protect lions in the wild from extinction.
According to WorldLionDay.com, the campaign aims to highlight the plight of the African and Asiatic lions whilst also demonstrating our shared global heritage of the species. The lion plays a significant role biologically, culturally, symbolically, economically and more. It is hoped that the recognition of the species’ worldwide importance will result in more active conservation worldwide also.
World Lion Day was founded in 2013 by Rae Kokeš and David Youldon from the African Lion & Environmental Research Trust (ALERT) to save and protect lions in the wild.
Over millennia, lions have been at the center of African mythology and folklore across the continent, and today, continue to influence Africa on a monumental scale.
A ruling member of the ‘Big 5’, the lion is often the most sought after animal by tourists. Tens of millions of visitors are drawn to Africa every year by the allure of discovering the magnificent animal with the large black mane, bellowing his roar across the grassy plains.
Once ranging far and wide across the continent, the lion has since been lost from over 80% of its possible range, in just 50 years.
In 1975 there was an estimated 250,000 lions in Africa, yet today the continent wide population stands at a mere 25 – 30,000 individuals. This staggering 80-90% decline combines with the fragmentation and isolation of those remaining sub-populations, poaching and trophy hunting.
Recent studies have shown lions exist in 67 areas across the continent; but only 9 countries have at least 1000 individuals and 5 countries are thought to have lost their populations entirely since 2002. Since the recognition of 86 Lion Conservation Units in 2006, following the IUCN Regional Lion Conservation Workshops, 18 have been declared extinct in countries such as Mali, Democratic Republic of Congo, Nigeria and Malawi.
In West and Central Africa populations are deemed ‘Regionally Critically Endangered’; the remaining 2800 individuals continue to decline at an alarming rate.
Following the incredible media storm and international attention over the shooting of “Cecil” the lion in the Hwange area of Zimbabwe, conservationists worldwide have advocated new commitments to ensure the long term conservation of the African lion and its land. With increasing pressure on populations from habitat loss, bush-meat poaching, human-wildlife conflict and more, it is imperative such efforts be undertaken now.
Once found roaming across India and the Middle East the Asiatic lion population was decimated to just 13 individuals around 1907 following years of persecution by trophy hunters. By 1975, after the banning of hunting, the species was awarded protection and the population rose to a meagre 185 lions.
In the last three decades the population has risen from the brink of extinction into a conservation success story with around 523 individuals surviving today (a 27% increase from a 2010 census). The expansion of the population’s range into the neighbouring Girnar Forest has also increased the lion’s habitat from 1,883km2 to c. 20,000km2.
Despite a slow, but promising, population increase an estimated 50 lions die annually due to a variety of threats. One tragic cause of death is drowning when lions fall into deep, open-pit wells that are common in the region.
The Asiatic lion has quite distinct physical characteristics such as prominent tufts of hair on their elbows and at the end of their tails. What is most notable is their size in comparison to the African lion. Asiatic lions are significantly smaller than African lions and the males often have smaller, sparser manes. Such features were once thought to have derived from thousands of years of evolution however recent studies have suggested intense inbreeding over recent generations has resulted in such characteristics.
Recent approval by the Supreme Court of India will see the movement of some individuals from the Gir Forest to the Kuno-Palpur Wildlife Sanctuary in 2013 in hopes of combating an ongoing inbreeding depression problem. There are however major concerns regarding the level of poaching in this area, the differing climatic conditions and insufficient prey within the sanctuary to support a viable lion population.
Due to the incredibly small and isolated nature of the entire population a natural environmental disaster such as the outbreak of a single epidemic disease, a severe drought or major bush fire could see the extinction of the species.
Power, royalty, prowess, strength, chivalry, nobility, bravery – the lion is the ultimate icon and an enduring symbol worldwide. No other species has ever been able to challenge the lions’ throne as the King of Beasts nor has any other captured our admiration and fascination on such a global scale.
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