Happy World Lion Day!
My jaw dropped to the floor when I scrolled past this photograph taken by the talented @missmolvik in Kenya earlier this week.
Time flies when you're having fun (and working hard!) and today marks my third World Lion Day since launching Claws Out in 2015, so it's a great opportunity to share my musings on lions and their welfare in 2018.
August 10th marks a day to celebrate the King of the Jungle and raise awareness to the ultimate feline's declining population in the hope of protecting them for future generations. The problems lions currently face can be broken down into environmental and human conflicts, each one offering disastrous effects if not addressed on a global scale.
In just 20 years, Africa's lion population has decreased 43%.
It's no secret that human conflict cause issues for every type of mammal that walks this earth and sadly lions are not exempt.
One aspect of human-lion conflict is the loss of habitat; as populations grow so do settlements, agricultural sites and roads. The result of such habitat loss confines lions and means they often come into contact with humans much less than they intend, often killing livestock due to a decrease in their natural prey and hunting grounds. Sadly, farmers often resort to killing the big cats to protect their livestock, reducing lion numbers based on a completely avoidable cause.
Another more obvious human-lion conflict is hunting. Whether it's legal trophy hunting, canned hunting or poaching, lions are being sought for their trophy heads, teeth and claws for decorations and their bones for completely useless traditional medicines. Once a male lion, the most popular option for hunts, is killed their whole pride faces instability and new males are known to kill an entire litter of cubs in the takeover.
In South Africa alone there are an estimated 8,000 lions in captivity for canned hunting and there are claims that doing so will protect wild populations, however there has never been a study or research to prove these claims. Similarly, the South African government has issued a new quota of 1,500 lion skeletons to be exported to Asia for traditional medicines. Tiger bone is becoming vastly unavailable and lion bone is being sold as an alternative, often to unknowing customers. The price of such "medicinal" products has grown exponentially as the product becomes less available therefore making a lion skeleton worth big bucks. The South African government's quota is therefore sending a clear message that the use of lions as a commodity is perfectly okay, and it's also increasing the poaching and poisoning of lions so others can cash in on the trade.
It may be hard to believe but recent studies show that climate change is indirectly impacting on lion welfare via co-infection. A key environmental factor in distemper outbreaks in 1994 and 2001, that killed lions in huge numbers, was the occurrence of severe drought. Such droughts resulted in weakened prey suffering malnutrition - a perfect target for ticks. The ticks carried a parasite, babesia, that infected feeding lions. Lions are usually able to tolerate the symptoms of babesia, but once the drought ended and distemper struck, the combination became lethal. Researchers now believe that if climate change continues to worsen, such mass die-offs are only set to increase.
What needs to change?
A lot of things need to change - and fast. Adding lions to CITES Appendix I will mark them as threatened by extinction and commercial trade in their parts will be made illegal. Though poaching and illegal trade of Appendix I animals is sadly still active, this will at least provide lions with the minimum security they deserve.
Raising public awareness is also key. South Africa are taking advantage of well meaning volunteers who look to raise cubs for what they believe is conservation when in actuality they are prepping them to be hunted by habituating them to humans. Volunteers and tourists pay huge amounts of money to raise or play with cubs, and walk with lions, and are therefore inadvertently making the industry worth millions. Until enough public outrage is made clear to the government of how they are tarnishing the name of South Africa for the benefit of themselves, nothing will be done. This is why I began Claws Out.
World Lion Day is a day to celebrate, but also a day to raise awareness. Let us not reach the day when we use August 10th to celebrate such an incredible animal that ceases to exist in the wild but rather, in maybe 10 or 20 years time, celebrate an increase in wild populations and the making illegal of mass lion breeding and canned hunting. We have an end goal in sight and the lion welfare world isn't going to stop until we reach it.