Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Last Lions

Imagine Africa without lions. Unthinkable. It's like imagining the ocean without whales, the arctic without polar bears, or the Antarctic without penguins. Sadly, this could become a reality. Though the lion is not listed as endangered yet, its numbers are plummeting rapidly enough to cause alarm. In the past century, the lion population has decreased from about 100,000 to around 23,000. (Some estimates have the lion population as high as 400,000 a century ago, and up to 40,000 today.) They have already become extinct in 26 countries and have a population of greater than 1000 in only 7 countries.

This month, several wildlife conservation groups, including the International Fund for Animal Welfare and Born Free USA petitioned the US Fish and Wildlife Service to have the lion listed under the Endangered Species Act. But wait. Lions don't live in the US, they live in Africa -- how could they be listed in the USA?

Answer: the groups leading the petition point out that between 1999 and 2008, Americans imported 4,021 lion trophies. In fact, this country is the largest importer of lion trophies and lion parts in the world. Placing lions on the endangered species list would prohibit the import of lion trophies. Though lions are also suffering from the typical problems threatening species today -- habitat destruction due to human encroachment and clearing land for agriculture -- halting the lion hunt would clearly help their situation. The US could then become a leader in protecting lions, though here are no wild lions in this country.

If you want to see lions in action, catch the National Geographic feature film, The Last Lions, now in theatres. It aint The Lion King, that's for sure. In the film, Ma Di Tao, the mother of three cubs, loses her mate and must protect and raise her cubs herself. The cineamatographers got some riveting footage of Africa at its wildest as we watch a compelling and suspenseful narrative unfold. Between asking myself how on Earth they captured these amazing scenes, I was always wondering what was going to happen next. As another reviewer said, this is definitely nature red tooth and claw. Though there's some anthropomorphizing in the narration (Jeremy Irons), and I could have done without the flashbacks and the slo-mo, the drama overcomes these minor quibbles.

There's a note in the credits about how you can cause an uproar to protect lions and I have to say, the items are rather minimal. Donate a few bucks here, share the story, etc. I hope they update the items to say that we should pressure the US Fish and Wildlife Service to list lions on the Endangered Species Act. Now that would be causing an upoar.

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