I have to admit a big, huge bias for the large cats…also (in no particular order) marine mammals, and horses, and dogs, and elephants, and primates, and, and, and…but for the moment, let’s talk giant felines.
The African Lion lives up to it’s King of the Forest(?) reputation (it’s the forest part I don’t get, but the lion’s regality is a given). Sure, they sleep a ton, barely roll over to urinate perhaps on themselves or pride-mates, and they can be a little tough to snuggle with…but they are truly breathtaking. I had an opportunity that may have bored the pants off of some folks, when in South Africa on a safari game drive, to spend two entire multi-hour evenings simply parked among the “Mountain Pride” of about 18 adult and juvenile lions, as they slept, lolled, cubs tried a few half-hearted wrestling attempts, and pretty much did nothing while we hung out. Other safari jeeps came and went, crossing LION off on their “Big Five” bucket lists and rolling away, and we just stayed with pride. On the second evening at dusk, they began, in no particular hurry, to move out. The adult females led what we soon learned was a hunting party, but it was unrushed, not very tense (until later), and magical as they meandered around us, surrounding the Jeep within spitting distance, cubs rolling and tussling in the grass as the day’s light faded…annnnnnnnd eventually the hunting party was successful and that ain’t nothing like a Disney film to watch…but the stretched out time we had to be in their presence cemented them as true totem animals for me.
So that was the living the dream part…here’s the nasty nightmare part. African lions have disappeared from 80% of their natural habitat regions, populations have been more than halved in the past three decades, and human conflict, prey reduction, and habitat destruction is painting an anything but rosy picture for the survival of the species. So they are African Lions, not American Lions…what the heck can we do about it? Well here’s the kicker, and this sickens me…the United States is the largest importer in the world of commercially traded lion parts and lion trophies. If the US Fish and Wildlife Department designated African Lions under the Endangered Species Act, we could curtail the importation of lion parts and trophies, and give them a chance to recover. Some across-the-board actions on behalf of foreign nations can have rough effects on local communites, but like poaching, the trophy hunting business is unsustainable, and the trophy hunting community is not one I feel a particular need to protect, especially since local guides and trackers can and will be employed in the same job descriptions for no-kill photographic/exploration safaris–in fact sustaining their longer-term employment, keeping more animals alive to be spotted, which draws tourism. As the animal becomes more rare, hunters who want the right to “bag” a specific kill, for their living room walls and bragging rights stories, goes up…so to unseat that backward behavior, we can stop the flow of the “product” into our country.
Here is a LINK to a petition to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and US Fish and Wildlife Service director Dan Ashe, encouraging them to list the African Lion as “Endangered Throughout its Range.”