According to wildlife experts, there are now only 23,000 lions left in Africa. That compares with over 200,000 in the 1980s, and if the populations continue to fall, experts predict lions will soon become extinct.
Laurence Frank, a wildlife biologist from the University of California, said the only way to save lions and other predators is to learn how humans and the animals can live together.
"It's not just lions," Frank said. "Populations of all African predators are plummeting."
For example, according to Frank, the wild dog population has fallen to only about 3,500 to 5,000 and there are now less than 15,000 cheetahs in Africa.
"People know about elephants, gorillas and rhinos, but they seem blissfully unaware that these large carnivores are nearing the brink," Frank said.
According to Clare Wallerstein of the International Fund for Wildlife Welfare, the situation is not expected to get better. Wallerstein said Kenya's human population will double in the next 12 years, creating more problems for the animals.
Frank agreed and said the decline is due in large part to people killing the predators to protect their livestock.
"People have always killed predators," Frank said. "But there's only so much damage you can do with spears and shields. "Now everyone has got rifles and poisons," he said.
Based on his studies in the Laikipia region of Kenya, Frank said he is convinced predators and farmers can co-exist.
He said farmers need better fencing, and he thinks having dogs on the farms to alert the farmers when predators approach would decrease attacks on the livestock.
Frank even went as far as to suggest that rather than killing the animals after they've attacked livestock, perhaps local people could earn money from the predators through tourism or even sport hunting.
He reasoned if people could make money from the animals, they might be less likely to kill them for no reason.
"In Laikipia, you could make half a million dollars a year by shooting the problem animals that are going to be killed anyhow," he said.
© 2003 Animal News Center, Inc.