The Zoological Society of London announced today that it will be pumping £5.7 million, or $9.4 million USD, into a planned expansion of its lion habitat at the London Zoo. A large portion of the project’s budget will go toward the conservation of wild populations of the Asiatic lion in Gir Forest National Park, a protected area of India’s Gujarat region. This particular species represents one of the biggest successes of any conservation effort, bouncing back from an estimated 13 animals in 1907 to over 400 today.
Even with this stunning recovery, conservationists, both from the ZSL and in India, aren’t confident that the species will survive without continued concerted conservation efforts. The IUCN List of Threatened Species still counts the Asiatic lion among endangered species. Until issues of habitat loss, subsequent loss of prey species, and poaching are addressed, it’s not likely the lion will shed its endangered status anytime soon.
The ZSL’s project will quadruple the London Zoo’s lion habitat, aiming to keep its captive population healthy while simultaneously growing the Indian habitat and reducing threats. If the plan works, it will join a laundry list of successful efforts on the part of the London-based conservation group. Since its inception in 1828, the ZSL has spearheaded a long list of efforts across the world. The group is currently running conservation breeding projects for the Amur Leopard, among other species, and protective endeavors in Asia, Europe, Africa, and the Americas.
Of course, the move won’t only bring benefits to India’s lions. It will also have significant effects on zoo attendance levels and London tourism overall. The zoo already plays an important part in drawing tourists from around the UK and from abroad to the area, which in turn has a beneficial impact on local restaurants, hotels, and other establishments that rely on tourism. According to the ZSL, the London Zoo, home to over 750 different species, attracts 1.1 million visitors to London Town annually.
The economic benefits to London are something of an afterthought for the zoo’s zoological director, David Fields. Increased revenue, a crucial part in enabling conservation efforts like this, is just an added bonus. The project, Fields hopes, will go a long way in undoing the damage caused by British hunting parties during the Raj. “I think it’s about time we gave something back,” Fields says. By late 2016, the project’s slated completion date, the ZSL and Britain as a whole will have done just that.
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