Larger than usual crowds are gathering near the Bronx Zoo's African Plains as we debut three lion cubs. Once you get a glimpse of them, you easily get mesmerized. We have been thankful to The Daily News
for spreading the word about the cubs and for inviting thousands of New Yorkers to help give them their names: Nala, which means gift, and Adamma, which means beautiful child, are the girls; and Shani, which means wonderful, is the boy.
While the lion cubs are adorable, it is important to know that lions in the wild are vulnerable.
There are only about 29,000 of these big cats left in the wild, predominantly in east and southern Africa. Lion populations are declining due to human encroachment on their habitat, lack of natural prey as a result of poaching, and the introduction of new diseases. This mighty and noble creature, which once ruled most of Africa and parts of Asia, has been powerless to stop the decline.
With our work in Africa, the Wildlife Conservation Society is counteracting human threats to lions from Tanzania to Nigeria -- in particular the growing use of poisons added to carcasses of cattle and other prey to keep lions away from livestock. Just last week, six lions were poisoned and killed in Uganda's Queen Elizabeth National Park in spite of our efforts to work with local people and park authorities to protect the remaining population. Recent surveys show that fewer than 400 lions remain in Uganda and fewer than 50 in Nigeria.
As the crowds gather to view the cubs at the Bronx Zoo, they are joining the WCS mission to save wildlife across the globe, including the world's last remaining lions.
Steve Sanderson is president and CEO of the Wildlife Conservation Society.