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FROM ZOO TO YOU

By Emily Sexson

Lion populations on decline in wild

You can visit five amazing lions can be visited at the Lee Richardson Zoo! Two brothers, Asani and Bantu as well as eldest male Razi, eldest female Amali, and their daughter, Lulu. While many people can visit the lions here at the zoo, lion populations in the wild are declining. Native to Africa, lions have vanished from 92% of their historic range. From 1995-2020 lion populations have been cut in half. When it comes to large cats, African lions are second only to tigers in size. How can the “King of the Beasts”, weighing over 400 pounds and measuring over 8 feet in length, possibly be in trouble?

There are a few threats that even these powerful predators face. Lions are carnivores that eat everything from small birds to larger animals like buffaloes. In addition to hunting live prey, lions scavenge for carrion (meat from animals that have already died). Lions are in conflict with humans in areas across Africa where livestock are kept. Many ranchers fear lions will harm their herd. They take advantage of the lions’ scavenging behavior by purposefully putting poisoned carcasses out for the lions to eat. Pre-emptive killing to protect human life & livestock is the primary threat to lions outside of protected areas. 

Another threat that all wildlife faces is habitat loss. At about 5 million square miles, the savanna ecosystem is a tropical grassland that makes up almost half of the African continent. Human intrusion threatens the diverse array of plants and animals that call the savanna home. Illegal hunting, livestock overgrazing, and destruction of land for commercial crops have put many savanna species, including lions, at risk of extinction. 

Thankfully, there are plans in action to help restore lion populations, such as the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ (AZA), Saving Animals From Extinction (SAFE) program for African lions. The goal of this program is to increase the number of African lions in the wild through public engagement and partnering with those working on the ground in Africa. AZA institutions are working with organizations in Africa to mitigate conflicts between farmers and lions, increase monitoring of lion populations and distribution, and address habitat loss. For more information on the SAFE program, visit www.aza.org/aza-safe.

The lions residing at Lee Richardson Zoo are part of the AZA Species Survival Plan for African lions. In addition to the strategies above, the SSP helps ensure a future for lions through the cooperative management of lions residing at accredited facilities. By visiting AZA-accredited facilities such as the Lee Richardson Zoo, you are supporting conservation efforts around the world. We can help lion populations at home by supporting organizations focused on conserving lions and their natural habitats, such as the AZA’s SAFE program for African lions. To find out more about lion conservation and how you can help lions directly, please visit the zoo, www.aza.org or www.leerichardsonzoo.org.

Emily Sexson is a communication specialist at Lee Richardson Zoo.