The first exotic animal at Lee Richardson Zoo was a female African lion obtained in August 1927. Lions are an iconic part of our zoo’s history, representing their wild counterparts and inspiring conservation of this amazing species.

Currently, Lee Richardson Zoo is home to two lion groups. The bachelor pride is comprised of two young brothers, Bantu and Asani, while the family pride includes dad (Razi), mom (Amali) and daughter (Lulu). African lions at zoos represent their wild counterparts and provide opportunities for guests to connect with these amazing animals and become inspired to help protect them. If you haven’t visited the African lion habitat recently, then we have the perfect reason for you to stop by for a visit. On Friday, Aug. 10, from 4 to 6 p.m., Lee Richardson Zoo will be celebrating World Lion Day!

The purpose of this event is to help raise awareness for this vulnerable species. Lions were once widely distributed throughout sub-Saharan Africa, northern Africa, southwest Asia, west into Europe and east into India. In areas like Europe, lion populations went extinct locally or extirpated about 2,000 years ago, but their populations thrived throughout Africa for years. Today, lion populations are disappearing, in part, due to habitat loss and the human-wildlife conflict resulting from the loss of habitat. As the available habitat shrinks, lions are more likely to encounter domesticated livestock and hunt them. Villagers, frustrated by the loss of their livestock, hunt down lions to protect their remaining animals. On top of these challenges, poachers looking for a trophy animal to add to their collection, or to sell parts of the animal on the black market illegally, hunt lions for personal gain. Today, lions are extinct in 26 African countries and can be found in less than 10 percent of their historical range. One day, zoos and protected wildlife reserves may be the only place that African lions might be found.

At our World Lion Day event you can catch a Keeper Chat at 4:30 p.m. to learn more about lions from the staff who care for them. During the Keeper Chat, you will not only discover fun facts from the keepers about the animal residents, but you’ll have the opportunity ask questions, as well. Volunteers will be at the lion habitat with Discovery Carts for guests of all ages to explore. Take a walk on the wild side with the opportunity to touch a lion pelt or take a closer look at a skull to view the amazing teeth that help make these animals excellent hunters. The fun doesn’t end there, though; guests can make a lion-inspired craft to take home or participate in a lion-themed activity. Drop on by our World Lion Day celebration to create new connections with the lions at Lee Richardson Zoo.

If you’re inspired to help declining lion populations, there are plenty of ways to create change. The simplest option is to be a leader and create, or increase, your personal conservation goals. Taking steps to be eco-friendly at home can have a global impact. For example, by practicing the 3 R’s (reduce, reuse and recycle) your actions will create positive impacts for wildlife all over our planet. Another way to help from home is to purchase fair trade items, made in other countries by rural villagers who are guaranteed a fair wage from their work. Seeking out and supporting these products provides alternate income for villagers beyond the livestock that so many depend on. Or, you can support conservation efforts through a donation to a conservation program of your choice. Donations allow conservation groups to educate villagers about why their livestock is being hunted, help create predator-proof shelters for livestock or fund new research to identify other ways to reduce the human-wildlife conflicts occurring in Africa.

Overall, lions have seen a reduction in populations of approximately 60 percent. But, we know conservation programs can work. There are four African countries with solid conservation programs that have seen a 12 percent increase in lion populations. Whenever someone purchases food for the ducks or fish, or participates in an animal encounter, Lee Richardson Zoo is raising funds to support conservation projects. Lee Richardson Zoo has proudly supported the Lion Guardian project with a portion of the funds raised though our feeders and animal encounters. These are just some of the ways you can help protect lions in Africa.

Join us on Aug. 10 to celebrate African lions and discover other ways to help conserve these amazing animals. It'll be a ROARING good time! For more information, email zoo.education@gardencityks.us or call (620) 276-1250.

 

Catie Policastro is an education specialist for Lee Richardson Zoo.