Fifty years ago, 450,000 lions ruled Africa as the proverbial king of beasts. Today there are fewer than 20,000 left. What will save them from extinction? Zoos say they can help by keeping them in captivity. Renowned filmmaker and conservationist Derek Joubert says that’s simply not the case.
Interviewed for Take Part, he says:
No, zoos are not the answer. They are largely housing for representations of animals that look like the real thing, and live and smell and breathe like them, but are not.
A fat lion lying in a zoo enclosure waiting for chopped up cow meat once a day is not the same as that animal with amber shoulder blades pumping mechanically through the tall grass downwind of the buffalo, stopping, looking, snapping a look at eight other sets of black tipped ears ahead, in a silent signal adapted by evolution for the hunt. It’s not the same as that animal that shoots out of the grass and grasps on to a buffalo in full flight, nearly a thousand pounds of muscle, and brings it to its knees with only its teeth and claws.
One is a 3-D image. One is a real living, fighting, killing lion that influences the habitat it lives in, in Africa (and Asia.) There is no replacement for that.
A better, but hardly perfect, option is to fence in large areas where the lions can be safe from humans:
There is a strong movement by some scientists to raise money for this one effort and fence all the big lion habitats. I am not quite on the fence on this one! I hate fences. I think that unless we do something, fences will be the only solution.
But this is premature in my opinion. I am still saying, “Doctor, I can fix this, with good food and exercise, and sane thinking…we don’t need life support yet.” The problem, our critics might say, is that you never think you need life support until you do.
Joubert says that progress has already been made, with hunting banned in Botswana and Zambia, and Mozambique and Zimbabwe moving in that direction. Joubert says that with a fund of half a billion dollars, Africa could put an end to hunting and poaching. But that “unless we go big on this, we will fail.”
The battle—and it is a battle—will be targeted and strategic, a war that will be fought over lions, rhinos, and elephants. If we can save those, we can save it all. If we can’t, it will all go.