We don’t often stop to think about it – it’s not like you encounter these guys when you’re walking down the street is it – but lions are absolutely brilliant.
Without lions, we wouldn’t have The Lion King.
Or the MGM ident.
They’re massive, majestic beasts, with big scary teeth but also fur that looks like it would be really soft. We’d love to stroke a lion. But we’re never going to. And not necessarily because it would rip our hands off (although it would). It’s because they’re at serious risk of extinction.
A new analysis, published in the Ecography journal, suggests that two big cats, the African lion and the Sunda clouded leopard, are most at risk, and it’s for the same reason as a flurry of Ice Age big cats went exitinct: a loss of prey.
They are already having to deal with a loss of habitat, but Dr Chris Sandom from the University of Sussex said: "I think it adds an extra pressure for these animals. They are already suffering quite heavily from other conflicts with humans."
"We're in a continued decline of big, exciting animals," he added. "These charismatic predators are facing this consistent threat that started in the Ice Age and continues to this day and we need to turn that trend around."
The study looked at the causes of extinction in seven big cats in the Ice Age – four types of sabre-toothed cats, the cave lion, the American lion and the American cheetah – and found that, even if they had survived until the present day, they would have lost the majority of the prey, in part due to human activity as well as natural variation.
They then looked at modern big cats and found that, if the species of prey that are currently at risk were to go extinct, then East African lions and the clouded leopards of Indo-Malaya would be looking at a grim future, just like their Ice Age relatives.
Prof David Macdonald, Director of the University of Oxford's Wildlife Conservation Research Unit, said in a fantastically evocative sentence: "The Churchillian aphorism that those that fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it was painfully in mind when we saw how many of the prey of lions and East Africa and of clouded leopards in Indo-Malaya look set to go down the same drain down which their counterparts in other regions have already been flushed."
This makes us sad. Although not as sad as the lion on the Shrewsbury club badge who looks like he’s watching his own house burn down.