Threat To Lions: 'King of the Beasts may not rule beyond this century'


The lion, once ubiquitous across the plains of Africa, faces extinction unless urgent action is taken to halt its conflict with humans, conservationists have warned.

Scientists attending a conference which opened in Johannesburg yesterday warned that the "king of beasts" would "not rule beyond this century" unless urgent steps were taken to protect its remaining habitat.

Kristina Nowell, a member of the cat specialist group of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), said lions had lost about 80 to 90 per cent of their historic habitat range in the past century, and the future was looking bleak.

Over the past 20 years, the lion population has fallen dramatically to between 23,000 and 39,000. Of that total, only between 2,000 and 4,000 are in west and central Africa; the rest are in the east and south of the continent.

Urs Breitenmoser, chairman of the cat specialist group, said it was not possible to give estimates of the original lion populations because no scientific surveys were done then. But African conservationists have previously estimated that lion populations of hundreds of thousands roamed the continent as late as the 1960s.

"What is not in dispute is that the lion is in danger ... It is highly vulnerable," Mr Breitenmoser said. "What is needed is clear vision and a comprehensive cross-border strategy to secure the survival of the king of the beasts."

Conserving the remaining population of lions was not enough, Mr Breitenmoser said. Strategies to help the the lion population recover were more crucial.

Ms Nowell said she hoped that Africans would not be as "reckless as Europeans" who wiped out their own lion populations which roamed their forests many centuries ago, through shooting, poisoning and snaring. "Lions used to roam Europe but we wiped them out ... I hope Africans will be a bit more sophisticated in managing what is left of their lion population," she said.

Although a combination of factors have taken their toll on the lion population, their conflict with humans was the most significant threat to their survival.

As lions lost their habitat, they were encroaching on human settlements for food and preying on livestock. This forced farmers to shoot them. Ms Nowell said although lions and humans had lived together largely amicably for the past 10,000 years, rapid modernisation and the loss of traditional ways of living in the past century had upset the balance.

In south-eastern Tanzania, for example, about 100 people were eaten every year by lions. "The victims eaten are mostly people walking home drunk," she said. This did not happen in ancient times because people largely avoided things that put them in conflict with wild animals. There was also a growing habit across Africa of livestock being allowed to graze at night instead of keeping animals secure inside villages.

Because of the increased interaction between lions and humans, the big cats have developed a taste for human flesh, raising the stakes in conservation efforts. Once lions develop a taste for human flesh, they became bolder and unafraid of humans.

South-east Tanzania has Africa's biggest population of lions with more than 5,000 animals. Northern Mozambique also has a very significant population though estimates of the actual numbers are sketchy.

At the conference of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species in Bangkok in 2004, Kenya, alarmed at its falling numbers, proposed that the African lion be put in the top category Appendix 1 - which would mean all trade in lion products, such as skins and trophy heads, would be outlawed. But other African countries disagreed and the move failed.

Arts and Entertainment
The Ridiculous Six has been produced by Adam Sandler, who also stars in it
filmNew controversy after nine Native American actors walked off set
Life and Style
The original ZX Spectrum was simple to plug into your TV and get playing on
techThirty years on, the ZX Spectrum is back, after a fashion
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
14 best kids' hoodies

14 best kids' hoodies

Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

The acceptable face of the Emirates

Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk