African lions are said to be “king of the jungle” when in fact they don’t actually live in jungles and would rarely go into closed canopy forests, but do inhabit the African savannas. As the world’s second largest cat (Amur tigers are the largest), the African lion truly is a magnificent beast. For eons, these felines roamed throughout most of Africa, but today these big cats’ range has become rather limited. Over the past 20 years, the lion population in Africa is down 30-50%. The IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature) has listed this big cat as vulnerable meaning that it is very close to becoming endangered. The alarming trend of a shrinking population has prompted a movement to add the African lion as an endangered species under the U.S. Endangered Species Act. The lion is the only big cat not protected. Countries in Africa, such as Kenya, Zambia and Botswana, either have or will soon ban lion hunting. If the United States lists the African lion as endangered it would stop the importation of lions killed or captured by sport hunters and since the U.S. imports half of all such lions, it is hoped that stopping this trophy hunting would have a positive influence on lion populations.
Lions are such amazing cats. They are, of course, cats, and usually the cat family is fairly consistent with basic characteristics and life styles, but lions just don’t fit into many of the typical cat characteristics. They have a tuft on the end of their tails—no other cat does. They live in family groups called prides—all other cats live solitary lives except for a mom and her cubs. They have sexual dimorphism (males look different from females)—not a cat characteristic. And what’s more, large predators like African lions perform such a useful function within their ecosystem by sorting out the sickly and weak animals, leaving only the strong to reproduce and preventing overpopulation and its resulting starvation within their prey species’ herds. Hopefully with new awareness and even possibly legislation, African lions will continue to roam the African savannas for many more eons.