World Lion Day is celebrated every year on August 10 to raise awareness on the plight of African lions (Panthera Leo). Just 100 years ago, there were over a million lions. Today, it is estimated that there are only between 20,000 to 35,000 lions left in the world.
On our Concession inside the heart of the Kruger National Park, it is a reliable occurrence for us to hear the commanding roars of lions nearby. In a way, we almost take it for granted that we will most likely see lions on the Concession at least once a week. However, our reality distorts the very tangible threats that lions across the continent face on a daily basis. A species so emblematic of Africa and imprinted forever in our imagines through the iconic Lion King, Lions have a special place in the hearts of most of us. Yet, according to the Wildlife Conservation Network, “lion numbers have dropped half since The Lion King” premiered in theatres in 1994”. In less than 100 years, Africa’s apex predator has vanished from over 95% of its historic range with the species being declared extinct in 26 African countries alone. Though the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) lists the species as “vulnerable to extinction”, the threats to the very existence of lions are colossal.
In South Africa, particularly, habitat loss through urbanisation, human-wildlife conflict in rural communities, poaching for use in traditional rituals and medicines abroad, and the illegal canned hunting market are just some of the pressures that the country’s lion population faces on a daily basis. According to Panthera, human-lion conflict constitutes 95% of the threat to the stability of the lion population. As the human population increases and as a result, the lion’s natural habitat continues to diminish to make way for development, lions are increasingly coming into closer contact with humans.
In rural communities, livestock makes for easy prey for the lions, which then ultimately leads to human-lion conflict when lions are killed in response to the threat that they pose to human lives and their livelihoods.
As a result, protected areas such as national parks and private ecotourism reserves are the last pockets of safe haven for lions. For example, of the approximately 3000 wild lions living in South Africa, more than half of the populations lives within the Greater Kruger National Park. In the Kruger, a pioneering study has revealed that the Kruger National Park boasts an extremely healthy population of lions with “over 98% of the lions observed during the [study] were [found] either in good or very good condition” throughout the park.
However, according to National Geographic, 68% of lions’ remaining potential range lies outside of protected areas. In more troubling and recent news, the unprecedented socioeconomic devastation brought by Covid-19, has further threatened the extent to which lions occur within protected areas. According to the World Travel and Tourism Council, wildlife tourism generates 22 million jobs globally and creates economic benefits of as much as US $346 billion annually. Game reserves and protected areas alone generated at least US $600 billion per year.
Yet, in just half of a year, more than 75% of tourism income from African game reserves and protected areas have all but disappeared. As jobs within the tourism sector continue to die as lockdown continues, the threats of human-wildlife conflict, poaching, and habitat loss to lions are intensified more than ever.
It is for this reason that supporting the industry for sustainable ecotourism is more vital than any. As the country begins to lift from lockdown and we are rewarded with the ability to travel once again, there is a strong sense that we must do so in a way that is ethical and that creates positive change in our society.
The Mluwati Concession team would like to reassure our guests that their time spent with us directly helps to protect Africa’s legacy. As you retire for the night, serenaded by the vibrating roars in the distance, you will be able to rest assured that we are doing our bit to safeguard those nostalgic moments for future generations to come.