THE BLOG

In the Lion of Fire

10/12/2015 12:19 GMT | Updated 09/12/2016 10:12 GMT

On July 1, Cecil, Zimbabwe's iconic and magnificent adult male African lion, was brutally shot and murdered in the name of sport.

On December 5, a pride of lions in south-west Kenya were deliberately poisoned, resulting in the death of at least two adults.

One for recreation and the other for livelihood, these shocking stories have found common grounds in news headlines across the world.

In the case of Cecil, it was found that Africa's most favourite lion was lured out from his protected home turf and fatally wounded from the shot of an arrow. He died an agonising and drawn out death; a far cry from an honourable and natural death that he deserved in some distant future.

In the more recent headline, two Maasai farmers have been charged with deliberately poisoning a pride of lions, after the lions had attacked and killed three of their cows. With the death of two adults as a result of the poisoning, a further eight lions are receiving medical attention. 17-year-old Bibi, a lioness at the heart of the BBCs Big Cat Dairy succumbed to the poisoning.

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Without any doubt, lions are in the line of fire. The human-lion conflict is a complicated one, whether that relationship stems from a cruel blood sport of the required protection of ones property.

Without entering that complex discussion as to how best to mend, fix, or redirect such conflicts, I want to bring focus to perhaps a more easily solved problem: how best to increase the health of the wild lion population.

Almost a century ago, Africa was home to 200,000 lions. Recent studies show that less than 20,000 of these iconic animals remain in the wild, leaving them deemed a 'vulnerable' species by the IUCN Red List. While lions used to roam through northern Africa, into southwest Asia and even into Europe, it is now estimated that they now only inhabit 22% of their former range.

One such conservation programme that is striving to increase lion numbers is the African Lion Environmental Research Trust (ALERT). The programme is designed to produce the next generation of African lion, by working with cubs that have been born to captive mothers.

The specially designed programmes equips the young lions with the social and survival skills that they need to be released into the wild, where they can live, breed, and produce the subsequent generation of fully wild lions.

It is obvious that alongside encouragement for the lion population's growth must be the discipline to give it the space and respect to thrive. The latter problem is the one highlighted by recent news reports, and is arguably the more intrinsically difficult to solve. But efforts must be made to address both problems harmoniously, because only then will a sustainable future for the species exist.