Today we honor perhaps the most widely recognized predator of our world, the great and majestic lion. The death of Cecil, one of Zimbabwe’s most cherished lions, provoked world-wide outrage regarding the hunting of big cats and created a surge of support for their conservation.
Now, less than two weeks after Cecil’s death, Zimbabwe has lifted a ban on big-game hunting. On August 1, the country suspended hunting in the area surrounding Hwange National Park, where Cecil was killed.
While the lion is synonymous with wild Africa, few people realize that the famous feline is being pushed closer to the brink of extinction. Illegal killing, relentless habitat loss and habitat fragmentation have taken a massive toll on the species. According to Panthera, a non-profit organization dedicated to preserving big cats, nearly a century ago there were as many as 200,000 lions living in wild Africa. Today, the most recent surveys estimate that there are now fewer than 30,000.
A recent statement made by Tom Kaplan, co-founder of Panthera, highlights the importance of understanding just how imperiled lions are. ”Lions, unlike some of the other big cats, allow themselves to be seen, so people make the assumption that they’re in good shape but they’re not,” Kaplan said. “The lion will be one of those animals that people will be shocked to find out is endangered.”