King No More: The Tragic Plight of Lions in Africa

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"Mr. Lion," on the other hand, has lost patience, after 35 years of field research. He no longer believes in the peaceful coexistence between man and lion. Packer argues that it would be more effective to separate the two species by creating more fenced-in sanctuaries.

Packer fears that populations remaining outside such enclosures will be reduced by half in 20 to 40 years. To conduct their study, he and his 57 co-authors determined that it would be much cheaper to establish protective enclosures in 11 African countries than to create management programs for people. Besides, he adds, this approach is measurably far more beneficial to the threatened animal. Lion populations in enclosures, he says, have proved to be "larger and more dense."

In Vrystaat, Four Paws has erected one such enclosure to create a 1,200-hectare (2,965-acre) sanctuary for big cats. A family has just found refuge there. After being released from their shipping containers, a male lion, his lioness and two cubs are able to feel grass under their paws and the African sun on their pelts for the first time.

The four new arrivals came from a Romanian zoo, which had violated a European Union guideline that would have required it to provide the animals with 500 square meters of space by providing them with only 40. More than 80 lions that had been living a miserable existence in European circus cars and small zoos can now lead a humane life in Lionsrock. But after being raised in captivity, the animals would be lost in their ancestral habitat, says Hildegard Pirker, the attendant in charge of the animals. "Releasing them into the wild isn't an option." Their bleak existence in captivity has made the animals incapable of living in the wild.

Pirker, who is also a veterinarian, performs vasectomies to ensure that the powerful cats don't reproduce. "The surgery makes the lions infertile," says Pirker, "but it preserves their sex drive and growth of the mane."

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan

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