Nearly a century ago, some 1 million lions roamed the wild across Africa and Asia.
Today, due to a combination of poaching, disease and habitat loss, the species is teetering on the brink of extinction, numbering about 30,000, according to a conservation group called Panthera.
In light of the shrinking population and in the spirit of awareness and conservation efforts around the globe, Sunday is World Lion Day.
“It is these beasts that shape our history and cultures worldwide,” the campaign posted on its Facebook page, noting that “on the plains of Africa and in the forests of India, the lions of flesh and blood are vanishing, leaving our world with only those of marble and bronze.”
In an article for National Geographic, conservationist and filmmaker Dereck Joubert wrote, “There have never been as few lions on the planet since 3.5 million years ago, when we think that lions evolved from the early saber-toothed cats.”
In 1950, there were about 400,000 lions across the continent of Africa. Less than two decades later, the species’ population dropped by nearly half to 250,000.
In West Africa, where there are about 400 lions, a study by a conservation group in January said action was needed if the lion is to avoid extinction.
In 1907, there were an estimated 13 lions left on the entire continent of Asia, according to the World Lion Day website. But conservation efforts in recent decades, including the banning of hunting lions in 1975, have replenished the population to more than 400 today.
“The lion is an enduring symbol across the nations and has fascinated man throughout the millennia,” World Lion Day posted. “To lose such a species would be to lose a significant part of our global heritage.”