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All about forests, rivers, oceans
Australia orders Japanese whalers to stay away
Esther Woolfson's urban nature diary
Ladbrokes is gambling with fish extinction – and so is the government
US wildlife officials propose endangered status for wolverines
The hare's death-scream tells of a history soon over
The ethics of keeping a killer cat
It's as if the landscape and stream are caught amid their own owl dreams
Many more seabirds may be affected by Channel pollution, RSPB says
Leading paper firm pledges to halt Indonesian deforestation
Fishing campaigners urge MEPs to vote for discards reform
Dog attack law to be extended to cover incidents on private property
The return of grey wolves 'not enough to restore Yellowstone's ecosystem'
Oil additive polymer PIB may be responsible for seabird deaths
MEPs vote to ban discards in historic reform of fishing policy
All dogs in England to be microchipped by 2016
Some of nature's mysteries are all the better for going unsolved
First the internet, now Monopoly – cats have got our attention
Polar bears 'may need to be fed by humans to survive'
Invasive mussel poses ecological and economic threat to island community
Ancestor of humans and other mammals was small furry insect eater
Conflict in DRC Congo threatens chimpanzee tourism programme
The intruder, a raven, passed through the treetops into view
The horsemeat scandal: could there be much more to come?
Circuses remove last of the big cats from UK's big tops
  African lions – the killer kings in mortal danger from man and sham medicine
In 2002, I spent 10 days in Kenya. I'll never forget lying in a tent on the Maasai Mara trying to sleep against the awful, blood-curdling roar of lions hunting on the moonlit plains. I would wake every hour, swearing a beast was at my door. Seven years later, a trip to Botswana ended without seeing (or hearing) a single lion, and while the safari was magnificent, something powerful and fearsome was notably absent. It made me wonder: what would Africa be without lions?

It's not a rhetorical question. The king of the beasts is on his deathbed. The great cats are vanishing across Africa. In fact, a study last year in Biodiversity Conservation estimated that lion populations have fallen by 68% in just 50 years: from 100,000 in 1960 to 35,000 today. Another report by the NGO LionAid, however, estimated even fewer: 15,000.

While even 15,000 may sound like a lot when compared to other threatened species, lion populations are spread over more than 20 countries, spanning a geographic area larger than south America. Today they survive in small, fragmented pockets. Looking at a map of historic versus current lion ranges is like viewing a continent submerged by rising seas: only scattered islands remain. The situation is most dire in Western and Central Africa where LionAid warns as few as 645 lions survive.

The story of the lion's decline is similar to that of many big predators. Ever-expanding human populations have gobbled up lion habitat for agriculture, livestock, and cities, while numbers lion prey – from antelope to zebra – have fallen dramatically. And like many top predators, lions face an unceasing conflict with humans: they are killed as pests, for trophies, and even for sham medicine. In order to conserve the lion, we must first stop so many dying at human hands.

Lion-human conflict is as old as our origins on the African savannah. Lions do not shy away from killing livestock when they can, and they attack people with some regularity. Both trends may be worsened by prey decline. For millennia, pastoralists have fought back and speared the lions.

But now some have turned to poisoning lions en-masse. In East Africa, a dangerous pesticide known as Furadan (banned in the EU, Canada, and US) is sprinkled over lion-killed livestock. When the pride returns to feed, they perish agonizingly. Unlike spears, the neurotoxin kills scavengers too. It's so deadly that in 2009 a 3-year-old boy died after ingesting Furadan, possibly mistaking the candy-blue pesticide for a treat

Another threat: taxidermy and trophy hunters who argue that by shelling out a lot of cash to shoot animals, they aid conservation efforts. This may be a legitimate argument for some species, but not for lions. Big-cat experts Dereck and Beverly Joubert with National Geographic told me that lion hunting often ends in a long trail of murder , as dramatic as any royal coup.

Hunters almost always target mature males—because of their manes—but by doing so, they unwittingly trigger a wholesale massacre. When a top male dies, a pride becomes vulnerable to challengers. If new males take over their first act is to kill any resisting females and all cubs. The Jouberts say that shooting one male can result in the deaths of over 24 lions.

Finally, there's a new concern: the lion bone trade. Tigers have been killed for traditional Chinese medicine for millennia, some of whose practitioners consider their bones an aphrodisiac. But with wild tigers dwindling and demand rising, traders are turning to lions. Many of the lions involved are raised, much like tiger-farming, solely to be killed for their bones. In this case, trophy-hunters get to shoot a lion and the parts are shipped to China to make someone feel potent, even though there's no medical evidence this works. But if the trade widens, conservationists fear that eventually wild lions will also face the gun.

Conservation must start with halting targeted killings. Lion hunting should be banned or at least better regulated. Working with local communities to mitigate lion conflict, compensate for livestock killed, and better protect both livestock and people should be a priority. Finally, the lion bone trade must be stopped before it gets out of control, like rhino horn and ivory.

This is not to say the lion is going extinct anytime soon. But I wouldn't be surprised if in a couple decades our king fell victim to the same fate as the tiger today: down to just a few thousand in protected areas, struggling even there to survive against the rising tide of humanity. We still have time to decide for lions: would we be satisfied with a token population, representing what once was, or do we want African ecosystems that are still ruled by kings? Where antelope bound in fear and zebra watch the horizon, where prides tussle with hyenas under a dark sky, and the king lounges in the morning light, belly full?

I say, long live the king.
In the British countryside, alien species are not always undesirables
Pandas keep Scotland guessing over mating game
US plan to control Guam's snake population with toxic mice angers Peta
African lions – the killer kings in mortal danger from man and sham medicine
EU fish discards deal welcomed by UK
Pilot badger culls set to go ahead
Scientist calls Hugh's Fish Fight 'a tawdry piece of hack journalism'
A couple of interesting visitors have arrived at the lakes in the past week
Sea Shepherd conservation group declared 'pirates' in US court ruling
Schmallenberg virus found in farm animals in almost all of Britain
Gardens: wildlife surveys
Tackling the illegal trade in wild animals is a matter of global urgency
100 million sharks killed each year, say scientists
The snipe's 'drumming' sound is perfectly evocative of Welsh hill country
Sharks at risk of extinction from overfishing, say scientists
Thailand's prime minister pledges to outlaw domestic ivory trade
Humans are not the only animals to enjoy alcohol
China must send a clear message to consumers on ivory trade
Google shopping adverts fuel ivory trade, conservation group warns
Two-thirds of forest elephants killed by ivory poachers in past decade
US and Russia unite in bid to strengthen protection for polar bear
Blackbird singing in the dead of night
Above the loch, the scene was dominated by the abundant birch trees
Lion kills intern at California animal sanctuary
Bid to halt polar bear trade fails
Deer culling on massive scale backed by expert
Scores on the paws: how one man changed the shape of dogs to come
Cites: bid to curb sale of ivory and rhino horn voted down
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Geoffrey Matthews obituary
World's largest captive crocodile dies in Philippines
Urban foxes: the facts and the fiction
Albatross astonishes scientists by producing chick at age of 62
Knut the polar bear lifesize model to go on show in Berlin
Horsemeat scandal: Owner of Yorkshire abattoir denies wrongdoing
Foxes' friends and foes say an urban cull is not the answer
Golfer pierces leg with tee to remove spider venom – then finishes round
Chinese appetite for shark fin soup devastating Mozambique coastline
A peregrine stands on one foot and imperiously looks out from her ledge
Action on dangerous dogs has been 'woefully inadequate', MPs warn
Why Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's Fish Fight is still necessary
What the horsemeat scandal and fish quotas tell us about Europe
New to nature No 99: Phagocata flamenca
We can overlook the aesthetics of gulls, but they make grey beautiful again
Birdwatch: Stonechat
Environment Pollution Pollution that killed seabirds cannot be traced, rules investigation
Communities of voices – the link between birdsong and spoken language
Bid to solve mystery of 50,000 red-breasted geese lost in migration
How a ferret took me on a journey to a saner world
Panda eyes focused as Yang Guang and Tian Tian seek each other out
So entrancing are the clouds that the deer are unnoticed until I shift my gaze
Anyone for camelcino? Camel milk set to be big business for east Africa
Red squirrel finds pine marten a fearsome ally in its fight for survival