Threats to Lions

Lions are facing an indirect threat from climate change called co-infection. Lions periodically face outbreaks of the disease distemper, and usually weather them with little mortality. However, distemper outbreaks in 1994 and 2001 caused massive die-offs. Researchers found that the key environmental factor in the 1994 and 2001 epidemics was the occurrence of a severe drought.

One result of this drought was that both the lions’ prey, weakened with malnutrition, became heavily infested with ticks, which in turn infested the lions as they fed. The ticks, it turned out, carried a blood parasite that rendered the less able to cope with canine distemper virus, and the combination of the two diseases killed many more lions than either disease commonly would acting on its own. Droughts such as the ones that led to deadly co-infection in lions are predicted to become more commonplace as the climate warms.

Lions are also facing many human threats such as population growth and agricultural expansion resulting in loss of natural habitat, as well as hunting, poisoning and poaching by livestock ranchers.

Reasons For Hope 

The steepest challenge that lions currently face is that farmer and ranchers have no economic reason for not poisoning or killing them. Conservation groups are working to develop strategies such as lion proof bomas, which are natural thorny enclosures where ranchers keep their livestock at night, and prevent livestock deaths, reducing or eliminating the need to kill lions because of livestock depredation.

Lions are also becoming more economically viable as a tourist attraction, bringing in revenue to these countries. Conservation groups are using the rising tourism to see if they are able to allocate ranchers a percentage of this tourist money as an incentive to let lions continue to roam and flourish once again.

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It’s hard to believe a population can plummet so quickly. In the 1940s, an estimated 450,000 lions roamed across most of Africa and parts of Asia.
In the Magazine
These iconic predators—who once ruled from the southern tip of Africa all the way to northwestern India—are at risk of extinction by 2020.