Last Lions

 
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They are of legend, revered by royalty. They are the symbol of grace, power and leadership; and yet, these beautiful animals, these kings of beasts, are struggling to hold on to survival.

Many things in this world don’t live up to the anticipation, but being in the presence of a lion is surely not one of them. Being witness to a lion surveying the grasslands of its kingdom, commanding the respect of all others at a waterhole, or even simply watching the king of beasts enjoying the shade of an acacia only affirms their regal stature. It makes you realize why lions have always been part of folklore, why they have always been a symbol of strength and majesty in many cultures and customs. They have been part of biblical lore and ancient stories, they are featured on royal crests and military insignia, songs and movies have even been made about this incredible animal. Their command of respect is second to none; they evoke fear and awe at the same time. Perhaps this is not what the king of beasts needs, for has it not been our fear that has led us to persecute it. Has it not been our desire to conquer all things, that has made us slaughter him in the name of a trophy. So perhaps what the lion needs most is not our fear nor to be held in awe, but what it really needs is our love and compassion. The lions’ survival may ultimately depend on us and the one quality that we claim defines what it is to be human… our compassion.

Lions once ranged across the African continent but recent studies have shown that lions numbers have decreased at an alarming rate, with some estimates suggesting just around 20 000 lions remain, and these survive in only a few countries on the continent. Lions are just about extinct in 80 percent of their historic range.

This is in large part due to human population growth and the demand for land. As the human population continues to grow at an alarming and unsustainable rate, the pressure put on all natural recourses in turn puts direct pressure on the last few natural habitats left on this planet and the creatures that depend on these last few speckles of “wild”. It is because of this pressure that their future seems perilous.

What is the lion’s story? Has the king of beasts, just like the many great beasts before him, succumbed to a world where the trophy is more important than the life? Is he a victim to a shrinking world? Or has human greed become humanity’s defining quality.

Man’s vanity and unquenchable greed have also both proved to be the lion’s cruelest of enemies. Even in this 21st century, trophy hunting (not to mention “canned” hunting) still continues and it is decimating lion prides all across Africa. Lions have paid a grave price for our cruel desire to turn their skins into a rug or stuff their lifeless bodies for ornamental cravings. Despite their well-documented decline, thousands of lions have been exported from Africa as trophies. Surely these great beasts deserve more. Surely, they are far more valuable to us alive. Surely, they deserve more than being turned into a morbid trinket to stroke man’s ego… Surely.

Africa's great wild beings are responsible for a huge amount of tourist revenue, and the lion is on the top of the list. The money brought in by tourists far exceeds the money generated by trophy hunts. This is further proof of how valuable lions are alive, roaming the last wild lands of Africa. A living lion will generate income through tourism for years. Lions have fallen victim to one of man’s most tragic qualities which is the incessant need to “conquer all”, maybe it’s time they now benefit from man’s unquestionable ability to show compassion.

With their numbers on steady decline the future seems grim unless we choose to make a conscious effort to save them. The last lions of Africa desperately need for us to remove them from legend and folklore, for us to see them as living creatures gripping on to survival.

Lions in the wild are nothing short of breath taking. Seeing a lion in the wild is a moment that will live with you for many years to come, and it is because they can leave us breathless by simply existing that they are invaluable to us. We need lions just as much as they need us now, for if we can’t save the lion, the king of beasts, what hope is there for any other creature. If we can’t save something as majestic as a lion then what does that say about us as humans.

We have lost so many magnificent creatures, gone forever, whether it was through human greed or a simple lack of understanding. Will lions be next? Are lions destined to be confined to zoos, locked up for the rest of their existence, or will we afford these great sentient beings one of the most basic rights that every living creature should have… the right to simply live

Will the last remaining wild lions survive or will they be added to a list of creatures gone forever? Creatures we read about in books… In the lion’s story, what will the next chapter read? Will it be one of a tragic ending or one of triumph and salvation for the king of kings. The lion’s story is intertwined with our story as humans, do we want our story to be one of greed or one of compassion…

We need to work toward a future in which we don’t just hear tales about the lions that once roamed… but a future in which lions roam.

 
Faizel Ismail