This is an excerpt from an article written by Tracy Keeling and published online by the Canary on 27 February, 2021.
African lions and Asian elephants are in a very precarious situation. Both species have alarmingly small estimated remaining wild populations. People also keep significant populations of them enslaved for tourism. Additionally, the bones of slaughtered captive lions are a popular ingredient in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM).
As if that wasn’t enough, these species also have another troubling thing in common. They’re potentially at risk of contracting tuberculosis (TB) in their captive settings and passing it on to other beings they interact with, be they human or other animals.
Lions and elephants are icons of the natural world. They also play a crucial role in the ecosystems in which they exist. As The Canary has previously reported, for example, elephants are a keystone species. This means they are integral to the environments they exist in. If elephants are absent, these ecological systems collapse because so many other species are dependent on them. Lions, meanwhile, are apex predators. As with keystone species, apex predators have a profound impact on the ecosystems in which they exist, partly through their predation of other species. All these ecosystems, in turn, prop up the wider climatic stability of the Earth.
In short, these species are not only iconic, they’re essential. Unfortunately, however, they face an uncertain future. African lions numbered 200,000 across the continent just a century ago. But estimates for populations of wild individuals currently range between 13,000-20,000. Their declining numbers are due to numerous issues, such as conflict with people (often because of their predation of farmed animals). Trophy hunting, habitat loss and disturbance are also among the problems they face. Asiatic lions, meanwhile, now only number in the hundreds.