The Vanishing Lions

Africa’s lion population appears to be declining at an alarming rate. NATURE’s The Vanishing Lions searches for explanations and solutions to the troubling trend.

Across Africa, the King of Beasts is in trouble. In the late 20th century, wildlife preserves were created to curtail safari hunting, but the African lion population continues to decline. Their numbers have dwindled from 100,000 in the early 1990s to no more than 30,000 and as few as 16,000 today. What could be endangering the King of Beasts?

In the mid-1990s a mysterious disease spread rapidly through the lion population in Tanzania and Kenya. An investigation revealed that the big cats had contracted canine distemper from jackals and hyenas that were picking it up from dogs in nearby villages. The spread of the disease was quickly halted and today lion numbers in the affected areas are back to previous levels.

If canine distemper was halted, why have lions continued to decline? An ever-expanding human population has led to competition between herders and lions for land and food. Lions living at the edge of the preserves sometimes stray from protected areas in search of easy prey. The Maasai and other ranchers will often kill them to protect their livestock and source of livelihood.

But as NATURE’s The Vanishing Lions shows, Africans are now struggling to reverse the decline. Everyone from scientists and conservationists to Maasai herders and ranchers is working together to find solutions. Travel to Kenya’s famed Serengeti Plains, the wildlife-rich Laikipia Plateau, and elsewhere in Africa as NATURE explores efforts to allow people and lions to coexist and prosper.

To order a copy of The Vanishing Lions, visit the NATURE Shop.

Online content for The Vanishing Lions was originally posted April 2006.

  • Vinlend

    we must do sumthing to pretact the wild animals!!

  • Alexandra

    omg! i’am so impresed about how has the population of the lions decreased! we need 2 help our world!

  • Marie

    How can I help?

  • Abby

    I can not belive that people can hunt them, like I’m a hunter(for whitetail deer), but lions wow. I am 12 years old, when Im 25 im going 2 africa

  • J Stanley

    It was chilling to hear the great white hunter list off the countries where he could hunt, legally and to kill, lions for 50K USD.

  • T Caldwell

    I’m not sure it’s a feasible solution but has anyone thought of developing some kind of repellent that would deter the lions from attacking the cattle? Seems they’ve been able to make something to keep cats away from from places they don’t want them so something along those lines, but obviously much, much stronger might do the trick.

  • Marlee

    As a human race — we are the only species that takes it upon ourselves to not only kill other species for materialistic/egocentric reasons and we also wage that war on our own species. How pompous to limit our solutions and think as God’s creation we have the solution and that solution is to kill one of his creatures so that it can hang in our trophy room. I am certain when he created the beautiful lion — his purpose was not for our egos.

  • Dominic

    Killing lions because they attack local cattle can be justified, but hunting them for sport is totally unacceptable. Please stop making Africa the playground for rich trophy hunters.

    And perhaps the Maasai do not really want their standard of living “raised” by the money gained from hunting. More focus should be placed on helping these people lead their simple, peaceful, traditional lives rather than forcibly introducing them to modernity.

  • Pedro R. Aguilr III

    just saw “the vanishing lion” it made me start thinking what i might be able to do. killing and allowing such a majestic animal when numbers are declining is something our LORD created for a purpose on this earth should be eliminated for donig what comes naturaly. i believe in killing for food or to protect a persons safety but not for trophy.but if they want to pay then mae them pay big.
    here is an idea……supply the tribal leaders with lion problems with tranquilizer gun, cage, and radio to contact game warden offer a bounty for captured lions make it profitable for the tribe…take the captured lion and decide whether it should go to a hunting area or to a game reserve this way most of the cost could be recovered from those rich hunters
    food for thought

  • lynsie

    why do people want to kill lions and watching the vanishing lions show made me think that lions are more important to this world if lions die out and no more are what will our kids think of lions.will they think killing them is to protect our livestock but the lions help us too and if i go to africa i will do my best to show i care about the lions and the lions terf i undeerstand that the hunters kill for money and some kill for food. the hunters should only kill them if taking to much food or if its about to attack the hunter. when the lions take to much of the animmals then they can kill that lion dont kill it if it takes one every so often its fine but not every night or day.lions play an important role in this world like us humans do so we all should take care of our lions before not even one is left.

  • Larry G. Mabry

    I agree with Marlee and the others who are disgusted with the practice of “trophy hunting”. This practice is totally contrary to the laws of nature and the mostly wealthy rednecks who practice it are no better than poachers . I bet the “Great White Hunter” on the program despite his “macho” attitude would be very reluctant to tackle a lion with a Massi spear than with a rifle capable of killing a lion at 1000 yds. That’s sport?Damn shame the lions can’t shoot back.

  • Crystal

    The program blew me away. It was heartbreaking. We humans are not the creators or “owners” of this world. Why do we feel that the planet is for our needs alone? What makes us more important? That we “intellectualize?” How do we know that other creatures don’t do the same in their own way? Because they don’t build highrises and wage war on other species? I give a resounding AMEN to Larry Mabry’s “Damn shame lions can’t shoot back.”

  • Unbelievable

    I caught the show on re-run yesterday . I was put off by the Great White Hunter that was granted media time to tell the world how amazining it feels to hunt “Big” Game. I think its cruel and unusual to hunt for reasons other than a means of survival. There needs to be a stop put to the hunting of any wildlife… I’m pretty sure people would be more upset if it was a horse, dog, or parrot that people were hunting. I was truly upset that this goes on in Africa. White man again capable of doing whatever he wants as long as its not in his people’s backyard.

  • Ali

    It’s very understandable that all the creatures of God have no meaning in the eyes of people that are blinded by the “$” signs..

    For anyone to very openly and boldly declare and count more than 5 countries which he alone hunts for money is nothing less than pathetic. I’d sure wish to hunt him for a change!!

    Lions, tigers, polar bears, all animals are humanistic values are doomed to the greed of man!!

  • Maryanne Burke

    What an incredible show…and how complicated solutions are.

  • Ashish

    barbary lions are extinct,few are left in the captivity. Asiatic lions are around 300 in numbers,but not found in the wild. and the number of african lions between 30-16 thousand,that’s the sign to act from today.
    Human can compete their own way, let king of beast rule the wild.

  • Donald Harris

    I don’t think that mankind is aware that a very real link exsist between nature and himself. A fine balance indeed. Man and his enviroment. In harmony one dependent upon the other.

  • carlos morales

    im looking to buy a video were lions eat other animals non stop .

  • anisa

    it is sad knowing lions are dieing there are atlest 30,000 to 16,000 live today in 1990 there was more than 1,00000.

  • Angeleque

    dude that is like crazy man!

  • Travis Gould

    That you should be careful with experiments.

  • sarah

    cloning is BAD!

  • Mika

    I think I have seen that there are people who hunts hunters, not sure though but if there is no such thing then Officials should hunt down people who hunt animals which would be great fun to watch, the way people watch videos of animal hunt!

  • Mike

    All life forms (humans included)need our help.

  • Yvonne

    If farmers would use perhaps Kangal dogs like they are use to keep cheetahs away from farmers lifestock that offers perhpaps a possibility. The CCF in Namibia has a project that works realy well. The population of lions is unfortunately not in a good state, like the cheetah, their numbers are rapidly declining, probable due to the same causes the cheetah is suffuring from.

  • Bill English

    I just watched the PBS Broadcast of “Vanishing Lions”. An added layer of protection could be provided to the local natives and commercial ranchers who keep their livestock in corrals/pins at night. The utilization of Invisible Fence ™ or other such devices could be a deterrent to problem predators or others which have been collared. The system (known as Invisible Fence, Fenceless Fence, Electronic Dog Fence, Radio Dog Fence, etc) was developed to keep dogs within their owners’ yard boundaries. The same system could be used in reverse to keep predators out of enclosures.

    The system buries a wire, a couple inches under the ground surrounding a designated area. The wire acts as a low watt radio transmitter. When an animal (who is wearing an appropriate collar) approaches this buried wire, the signal activates an electrical shock generator in the collar, which administers an electrical shock to the animal. The animal soon learns the area “administering the shock” and thereafter avoids the area. If such a boarder surrounded the perimeter of a livestock corral/pin, the animals in the pin would be safer.

    In the video, a commercial rancher went to great lengths to avoid killing a lioness which was raiding his sheep/goats/cattle enclosures, taking many animals. Eventually, the rancher had to kill the lioness. A shock collar might have solved this problem without having to kill the animal.

    The cost of the system would be negligible compared to the value of a living lion. Even in the most remote areas, solar panels could be used to generate the necessary electricity to charge batteries that would operate the Invisible Fence ™ during the night when predators are most active.

  • Bill English

    Hunters kill mature male lions to exhibit the beauty of the Lion’s mane. Obviously, the death of these mature animals has major impact on the specific pride the animal ruled and contributes to the overall decline of the lions. One way to protect these magnificent male predators, is to render their trophy value worthless. This could be accomplished by darting a prime animal and shaving off about a 5 inch swath of mane from the back of his head to the middle of his shoulders. I doubt very few trophy hunters would be willing to pay $20,000 – $50,000 to kill such an animal.

    The shaving might not have a detrimental effect on the ability of the male line to rule his pride?

  • John Benton

    The posters here just didn’t get. By preserving lions for trophy hunting it is necessary to preserve the whole ecosystem for the lions to do well. That means more of all the species in that ecosystem. Human beings harvest animals for food, clothing, pharmaceuticals and a whole host of other things. Please get off the “Lion King” mentality and quit humanizing animals. I really think there is more to the disgust here than just being anti hunting. It really hurts a bunch of you zeros that someone has 50K disposable income doesn’t it? The comment made by Dominic “And perhaps the Maasai do not really want their standard of living raised,” is blatantly racist. What do you want, Dominic; keep em on the plantation?

  • David

    John Benton, you are so off base with your answer. Obviously you don’t get it. If your need to be rude and call people names is your way to argue your point, then you certainly don’t get it.

    I think Yvonne and Bill English are thinking intelligently. Certainly there must be many inexpensive deterrents out there to keep lions or other animals away from livestock. Cactus fencing, dogs, noxious sprays, etc. are some ideas mentioned here. The money could come from a direct tax on tourist dollars. I would think most tourist would willingly pay this tax knowing what it purchases. I’m sure the Masai would also be happy to receive funds to better protect their livestock. Is there a wildlife organization that purchases these livestock defenses? Does someone here know how to contact one of these organizations?

    I hope that all this feedback is viewed by someone involved in an African wildlife organization.

    The “killing the lions is helping them live” mentality is ridiculous and is only an afterthought for the sheer thrill of killing. Killing the large males seems to be hurting the pride, not helping it. Any animal trophy hunting is sadistic, greedy, egocentric, distasteful and should be illegal.

  • David

    I don’t think hunting with a rifle is very macho or sporting. It is just the contrary.

  • RW

    David, a volunteer tax never works. Here in the Pacific Northwest, we have many wildlife preserves that are excellent areas of habitat for waterfowl and other birds. There is habitat for the birds to live and thrive. There are many natural food sources, in the form of plantings of grains and corn.

    How is this all paid for? Do bird watchers pitch in? Rarely. It is paid for by taxes on ammunition and hunting license fees.

  • RW

    There’s no denying that the hunting does work to preserve numbers. I realize that is a bit contrary to what one may think, but the numbers are there. Less lions are dying. Isn’t that a good thing at least a little?

  • John Benton

    It would take bus loads of tourists descending upon the savannahs to generate the income that is derived form a handful of hunters. Having hordes of these folks driven around isn’t green or sensitive to the ecosystems. Do you really think a tourist is going to spend 50K to take some photos? Nope, and they will demand all the creature comforts they have at home, like hot running water, catered meals, a soft bed and what else. So then a bunch more hotels and resorts will need to be developed. Do you anti-hunters think anything through?

  • Lewis Witt

    The Lion, a magnificent creature, and other wild animals are paying the price for human development and economic growth. History has proven time and again human expansion and wild animals cannot coexist in harmony. The American Buffalo is a prime example of this tragic human behavior. Hunters, today hunt, for the sheer pleasure of killing and are willing to pay huge sums of money to do so. Once upon a time hunting was necessary for survival, not any more. Hunting is not the solution nor is tourism, as both bring unique stress to the wild life and certainly will not generate sufficient revenue. The evil side of both comes down to how much hunting or what level of funding will satisfy all parties involved. There will never be a satisfactory balance between the two and the wild life will always be the looser. Let us focus on the possible and stop finger pointing as it is counterproductive and in the end solves nothing.

    I feel the program presented a balanced picture and I was encouraged that at least some of the Masai and at least one rancher was willing to strike a balance with nature. We must share research and strive to identify solutions to protect domestic livestock and the Africans way of life. Further, perhaps an internationally funded program is necessary to help implement proven solutions.

    We have a responsibility to develop the means to strike a balance and identify a plan to protect Lions in the wild. Such a plan must have universal acceptance and government enforcement to insurer success. How do we do this and who will lead? Time is running out!

    Thank you PBS and keep up the excellent work you are doing to raise our awareness of these issues.

  • Sam

    I am an animal lover and so when I hear that these things are happening to animals that I love, it is something that is just sick and cruel.

    I am 17. I want to become a zookeeper/zoologist and work side by side with conservationists to make sure that all wildlife is cared for and protected. I am a cat lover. So when I see lions and other exotic cats being gunned down and killed just for the sake of killing, I am not the kind of person to just ingore the facts right in front of me. All the people who have commented on this program, thank you! You have all taken a stand to what you think is right and have gave your opinions. It may not seem like much, but your voice was heard. And to me, it shows that people do care.

    I am agreeing with many people, that something needs to be done to insure that the lion population continues to grow and flourish. Because if we don’t they will in turn become extinct.

    I know for me personally, it is hard for me to donate money because of financial issues, but I have put my voice out. I am a member of many conservation societies and I recieve newsletters through my email to keep me up to date on issues that are happening with wildlife. I am a member of the Defenders of Wildlife. I wrote to the United States Congress to help endangered wildlife. It did not seem like much, but I knew that my voice became heard, and that is a big deal especially to conservationists. It shows that there is people out there who care.

    All animals have a purpose on this earth. I agree that we as people have a big responsibility on our hands. And that time is running out.

    I want to thank PBS for allowing people to have their voice heard. I also want to thank conservation societies for the efforts that they make every day to make sure that wildlife is protected.

  • John

    Game butchery is as objectionable as any other form of wanton cruelty or barbarity ; but to protest against all hunting of game is a sign of softness of head, not soundness of hart,Theodore Roosevelt

  • Jessica

    Well said Ali! It is unbelievable that people have become drenched in greed, pride and inhumane behavior. So many animals have died at the hands of man for senseless reasons.
    Kudos to the makers of this episode and every episode that Nature has produced. Their intense research and agressive reporting has helped to bring awareness to my home weekly. Because of you all, I feel more informed, educated and aware. I want to do more to help preserve the plants, animals, environment, people, all of Gods creation! Thank you!

  • Miori Riess

    We, humans, are responsible for destroying the wildlife habitat of lions and other species which
    are very vernalable to climate change.
    Without our interventions, they won’t survive.

  • Noah Gelinas

    Its sad how people will kill lions to protect a cow. I think that would be illegal. I would go to Africa to try to stop this but I’m going to be in Americore.

  • Nick

    Hey I had to read this from my school so I waite dto post this at my house and we realy need to help these poor creatures. The Africans are to blame because they care SOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO MUCH ABOUT THERE LIVESTOCK THEY THINK THAT ALL THEY CAN EAT IS MEAT BUT THERE ARE RICH VEGETARIANS BECAUSE IT TAKES 10 POUNDS OF GRAIN TO MAKE 1 POUND OF MEAT. Thank you for reading this. :)

  • Isaiah

    That stinks that the big cats are dying like crazy the hunters should have to pay a fine or go to jail.

  • Brendan

    I cnt beleve this is happeneng

  • Mikey

    I think that we should clone the lion I know it will be costly but it’s for the good of the lions.

  • Ariel

    This is sad lions don;t deserve this.

  • Cheryl

    A few months ago I volunteered in Zimbabwe at a lion breeding and rehabilitation program. This program is breeding lions to put them back into the wild. Yes, it is a small step but it makes me so happy to see an organization that is trying to do something about it. If more people cared about the dwindling lion population “we” could do something before it is too late.
    I can tell you from first hand experience these are the most amazing creatures God has ever put on this earth. It is truly amazing to watch the tenderness between them as they interact with one another in their pride. The social aspect of these cats is really what makes them so beautiful to be around.
    For more info on the group above:

  • Brittany Johnson

    I think this is pretty sad, the wildlife of animals are decreasing drastically and all we think is ‘protect ourselfs’ but not protect them? We have to remember, they were here BEFORE us- they walked the lands and they owe them. Its pretty ridiculous how someone can just pick up a rifle and shoot and animal for no reason-What do you get out that? All hunters are doing are just taking the lives of these magnifecent creatures ONLY to stuff and put on their wall? We have to stand up and make a change, we have to protect them and replenish them around the world, otherwise if theres no them-theres no us. And i think thats what most people forget, I wish hunting was outlawed. If your going to hunt only to kill and put it on your wall then you have to pay a fine of $100 dollars maybe $200 or more. Anything to people and hunters in order and to stop them going around thinking they have the right to kill these animals for nothing.

  • Georgia

    it is sad but it is our fult!

  • Cherry

    I think that cloning is good and bad. It is good because they could make a male and female keep producing more and more that way. It is also bad because they would keep getting the same outcome each time. I don’t see why they won’t just produce a male and a female by cloning and then have those two mate and the outcome could be greater than just one.
    I think the people who created this should protest the people who are hunting the lions. That doesn’t make sense. If people would stop hunting lions, then the lions could be better off and produce offspring naturally instead of cloning.

  • ciara penunuri

    i think that cloning is good because u can make an anima lthat is extinct over agin

  • John

    Some of the comments made here are not very well thought out, I can understand if one isn’t totally aware of just how serious this is. Or like the 12 year old deer hunter who can’t wait until he’s 25 so he can go to Africa and kill a lion, that’s if there are any left. Cloning is not an answer, it’s just not feesable. and hasn’t been studied enough to understand the effects on future generations. Territory is the only way lions can have a chance, less territory means more inbreeding, which in-turn leads to feline disease. Juvenile male lions (2-3yrs. old) are kicked out of their pride, instinctively avoiding inbreeding. As they grow and learn to hunt, and fight for dominance with other juvie males from other prides, they then will travel out of the territory they are familiar with to a new prides territory. Those that survive to the age of 5 yrs, will seek out a new pride and try to ‘take over’ the resident male(s). The problem is the lions habitat is few and far between, those males cannot travel those distances. It’s a viscious dwindling circle and I fear the worst.
    For those of you who want to help, there are ways. Take a 2 year conservation course, volunteer at a animal shelter, learn all you can about all species, and when the time comes, you may want to take a trip to South Africa for 6 weeks and volunteer with raising lion cubs. It costs money ($2,500-$3,000) but the reward is priceless. It may be your lifes work. Also if your dreams aren’t that realistic, the World WildLife Fund will take your small donations. You can even adopt a lion, or polar bear, or which ever animal you want. Please lets learn what we can in order to teach our friends and family how serious this is getting.

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  • ahmad wannous

    hi im sorry for my bad english but i want to inform you very intersting thing that is the arab lion stay a live to right now in sanaa zoo in yemen and the arab lion desapire from medileast wild so i ask help to protect this animals because the last group of this lion in thats cage and the lions was hunted in the yemen wild by emam to put it in his own zoo and ithink its married wis som african lion however i dont know how to protect this animals to back to the arab land my age cant help me and my state
    im 18 syria

  • jacob

    I love lions.

  • nanna

    lion is a animal which is really nice but the sades thing is that there are no enough information about lion in the inter net i am tired of searching for information about lion for my school presentation

  • raggedy

    Sir, read this quote somewhere and wanted to share it with you”HOPE is a feeling, that the feeling you have isn’t permanent”….take care, soumya

  • Breanna Heddlesten

    The second circle pad is completely unnecessary. I thought the original design was good enough. Now I’ll look like a complete idiot out in public with that big plastic thing under the 3ds.

  • side

    i am a 27 yrs man and have been hunting for 14 years although i have never hunted lions and i dont like people to hunt them at all before 10 years in some hunting areas in tanzania it was easy to see a lion but now a days it is very very difficult. I find that 90% of lions decline is because of the trophy hunters they shoot a lot of young lions and a lot of males in the pride so when the other male takes over he kills all the cubs and same male also he gets killed before breeding so the ends up without a male. I think people should wake up and try to stop lion hunting, this people calling themselves hunters they kill this lion using baits and blinds im sure this same hunters there children will never see a lion in the wild than the ones on there walls if they will not stop this habit.

  • Meggan Stubbins

    I agree with you. Giving something of value is an act worthy of emulation. Do not just make money, give value and be a difference.

  • a

    It was si sweet when Katara kissed Aang at the end!!! He got all red !

  • Darcey Winterton

    I need the instructions to add the modem, please.

  • باسم الشربينى

    we must protect the lions

  • باسم الشربينى

    لابد ان نحمى الاسود من خطر الانقراض
    منذ 50سنه كانت عدد الاسود 450,000 اما الان فوصل الى 20و000 فقط فنحن نخسر الاسود والسبب هو اجتياح المبانى فى اراضيها \

  • Brian

    I find the hunting of Lions for a “trophy” very offensive. It, as well as other trophy hunting should have been outlawed many years ago, similar to outlawing killing Rino’s and Elephants for thier tusks only. What are these few hunters thinking? Decimating a population of wild animals to extinction, be it controlled or not, that is just wrong. I was born and raised with hunting and we were taught to only kill what you eat. The killing of ANY animal for a picture (or whatever these red necks do with it) is stupid and senseless. Maybe we should reverse the tables and have a open season on trophy hunters that are to be hunted and defenseless, so we can mount thier heads on a plaque. There is a declining population of all sorts of animals all over the world. Lets protect what we have left, before its too late, and educate young people on the senseless slaughter of innocent animals. This is as pathetic as the Japanese hunting whales that are close to extinction……for scientific purposes, what a load of rubbish! Its too bad ALL Government bodies put a total ban on all nonsense hunting, I am embarrased to say no one has the balls to do anything about it. The people who participate in this sport, or whatever they call it, are red necks that should be removed from society themselves and become extinct.

  • Jo Briffitt

    visit to find out how you can help :D

  • Snake

    Whats the point of hunting lions?what does the hunter do to them after killing them?eat them?thow them?or even better burry them?Hunters just don’t treasure god’s gift of creating lions

  • Leicester Fencing

    It has always been the case and continues to be a problem when humans infringe on the wild animals. This problem is not just isolated with lions. As a race we seem to destroy species and when we have just about wiped out a breed we then jump into action, sometimes to late.

  • terrence

    lion and other big cats are treated very badly. other cats in africa are declining like cheetahs n leopards. Y’know ive been thinkin what if we gave lions growth harmones to increase their numbers?

  • bob john

    stop killing lions

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