African Lions in Danger

African Lion

© National Geographic Channel

Lions are perhaps the most iconic creatures on the planet. And two thousand years ago more than a million of these majestic big cats roamed the globe. African lions once roamed freely in a geographical range across the continent and into Israel, Iraq, Iran, Syria and northwest India.

It was estimated in the 1940s that Africa’s lion population was numbered at 450,000. But since that time, this number has dwindled to a staggering estimate of as few as 20,000 individuals living in fragmented territories across sub-Saharan Africa – less than 5 percent the numbers that once thrived on the continent. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species has listed African lions as ‘vulnerable’ to extinction since 1996 (with the last assessment in 2008).

According to National Geographic Explorers-in-Residence Dereck and Beverly Joubert, this means that there many only be 4,500 male African lions left in the wild. As the only big cat species that lives in groups, lions do not breed well when left alone and cubs need both attentive lionesses and stable lions to survive.

Experts point to human expansion, loss of habitat, prey base depletion, indiscriminate killing, trophy hunting and feline diseases as the leading causes for lion population decreases.

Learn more about the African lion species and follow National Geographic’s Big Cats Initiative as they aim to restore lions to sustainable numbers by the year 2015 through anti-poaching programs, new technology, protective predation fences and educational projects.

Photo: Elikan, a mother lioness, slinks through the tall grass in Mbirikani, Kenya. The Maasai warriors want to spear Elikan and her sister, as they are known cattle killers.

blog post photo

© National Geographic Channel

Big Cat Week continues… Don’t miss Lion Warriors, Wednesday December 8th at 9 PM et/pt on Nat Geo Wild and learn how Maasai warriors are reinventing their traditions from killing lions to protecting them.

Video Preview: By killing lions, Maasai warriors protect their livestock and offically become men.