Lions are one of the most iconic animals on the planet. They play starring roles in the art of hundreds of cultures, in literature from history books to fairy tales and are, of course, are one of the biggest draws of tourists to the African continent.
However, they are disappearing from the wild at an astonishingly rapid rate.
According to Panthera, lions have disappeared from 95% of their historic range due to habitat loss, hunting and poaching, retaliatory killings by livestock owners, loss of prey and other factors. "Just over a century ago, there were more than 200,000 wild lions living in Africa. Today, there are only about 20,000; lions are extinct in 26 African countries."
The population count from the IUCN Red List is slightly more optimistic, but not much: They estimate there are 23,000 to 39,000 lions left in the wild.
Though lions are such a big part of the human consciousness across the planet, we are at risk of the species entirely disappearing from the grasslands where they roam. This fact surprises many people, including those who love lions. These big cats are part of a much bigger ecosystem, one in which humans play a significant role. That role can be shifted from one that is causing lion populations to dwindle toward extinction, to one that creates strategies for coexisting with and protecting this important and magnificent predator.
If you'd like to learn more about lion conservation and how you can help, check out these groups:
Editor's note: This file has been updated since it was originally published in May 2015.