South African lion taking a break from his kill, a Cape buffalo. Photo: Sally Kneidel
Lions extinct in 10-15 years? That's the prediction of National Geographic explorers-in-residence Dereck and Beverly Joubert. The couple have studied and filmed Africa's big cats for more than 25 years. They say that wild lions have declined from 400,000 in 1960 to around 20,000 today.
"The Last Lions"Based in Botswana, the Jouberts have a new documentary and a companion book, both called "The Last Lions" (see link below). This latest film follows a solitary female lion in the Okavango Delta of Botswana as she tries to feed and protect her three cubs after her mate dies. Female lions usually live and hunt in a group, with a single male as protector against intruding males. A solitary female alone is at a serious disadvantage. Females do virtually all the hunting for a group, and they usually hunt cooperatively.
Males are freeloadersMales that are part of a pride seldom hunt, but share in the females' kills. The conspicuous black mane helps protect a male's neck during fights with rivals, but makes it difficult for him to creep toward pray unnoticed. Mortality is much higher in males than in females.
Threats to lionsAfrica's lions are threatened primarily by habitat loss, as human populations expand. They're also frequently poisoned or trapped by rural dwellers who blame lions for livestock losses.
I was surprised at how few lions I sawI've been to South Africa a couple of times in the last 5 years looking for wildlife. Although I spent virtually all my time in Kruger National Park and other wildlife reserves, I saw very few lions. In eight weeks of searching, I had only three lion sightings: one solitary male, two males on a kill together, and one pride of females with their young. One wildlife guide I talked with told me that, in his youth 40 years earlier, he had shot lions every single day - to protect his family's livestock, he said. This was in the same place where I saw only one lion over a period of 3 weeks.
Link to Jouberts on NPRThe Jouberts were interviewed on March 2 by Terry Gross, host of NPR's "Fresh Air". Click here to read NPR's summary of the interview, or to listen to the entire interview.
A couple of my previous posts about Africa's big cats:We were lucky to see lions on a kill
Leopard adventure: male and female clash over prey
Keywords: lion extinction lion conservation Dereck Joubert Beverly Joubert The Last Lions NPR