Hi, my name is Harry Peachey. I’m General Curator here at Zoo Boise. And today, we’re going to be talking to you about the crisis that faces African lions.

Lion populations at the beginning of the twentieth century numbered roughly 200,000 individuals. But, by 1950, that number had dropped to roughly 50,000. And today, conservationists believe that there are 20,000 or fewer African lions remaining on the continent.

And this has been due to a variety of issues: conflict with human beings, loss of prey species, loss of habitat, loss of genetic diversity. All of these things combined have contributed to this rapid decline in lion populations.

Fortunately, there is an option provided by AZA – the Association of Zoos and Aquariums – through a program called SAFE – Saving Animals From Extinction – that might very well help lions in the future.

Member institutions are partnering and providing their resources, their information, their knowledge, their access to technology to help conservationists working in the field.

Zoo Boise has a partnership with Gorongosa National Park in Mozambique. Zoo Boise has a built-in mechanism to provide funding for conservation projects in the field. And to date, we’ve provided over $4 million to support what’s referred to as in situ conservation, or “conservation again” in the field.

Our partnership with Gorongosa is an important component of that… and that partnership began with a lion restoration project many years ago.

Zoo Boise is home to two African lions: Revan, our ten-year-old male, and Ahsoka, our three-year-old female.

These lions were placed here by AZA’s Lion SSP, which stands for Species Survival Program.

If you’d like to help African lions, get in touch with your local zoo and see what projects they’re supporting. Share the information you have; make sure your friends know what’s happening with lions and what they can do to help.

Updated on April 10, 2024

By Zoo Boise

Lions hold a special place in our culture — from their roles in beloved cartoons to gracing the logos of our favorite sports teams — and insurance company. But beyond their iconic presence lies a story brimming with depth and importance. Explore the real-life challenges African lions face and the organizations dedicated to saving them.


A small female lion sitting in front of a herd of antelope in a field in Gorongosa National Park.

A lioness sits in front of an antelope herd in Gorongosa National Park. Credit | Michael Dos Santos Photography


African lion facts

 What truly distinguishes lions from other majestic big cats is their sociable nature. Unlike tigers, which are solitary, lions form social groups known as prides. These prides can consist of more than 30 lions, with each member playing a unique role in hunting and caring for offspring.

As carnivores, lions primarily prey on hooved animals such as zebra, antelope, wildebeest and gazelle. Female lions typically coordinate group hunts, using stealth and teamwork to capture prey. Since they expend so much energy hunting, lions can spend up to 20 hours a day sleeping.

Adaptable to various habitats, African lions can be found across diverse landscapes, including savannas, grasslands and dry forests. Their natural range extends across Africa, from south of the Sahara Desert to South Africa.

African lions are the second largest feline species, surpassed only in size by tigers. They can reach 5 to 7 feet long with tails over 2 feet long. Males can weigh 330-550 pounds, while females range from 250-400 pounds.


A male lion laying on a rock next to a female lioness.

Zoo Boise African lions Revan (left) and Ahsoka (right). Credit | Mackenzie Platt


African lions at Zoo Boise

 Idaho’s Zoo Boise is home to two African lions: 10-year-old male Revan and 3-year-old female Ahsoka. Both names are references to characters of a popular science fiction series.

Revan was born on Oct. 4, 2013, at the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore. He moved to Zoo Boise in 2018 to lead his own pride. His favorite treat is goat’s milk, and his favorite scent enrichment is Obsession by Calvin Klein.

Ahsoka was born on Nov. 5, 2020, at California’s Santa Barbara Zoo. The playful young lioness relocated to Zoo Boise in 2023 to serve as a social companion for Revan. It’s common to find her skillfully batting around a ball or jumping on new enrichment items.

Revan and Ahsoka serve as ambassadors for their wild counterparts in Africa. They were matched through the Species Survival Plan, a cooperative conservation program by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA). The AZA is a nonprofit dedicated to advancing zoos and aquariums in conservation, education, science and recreation. AZA accreditation is the gold standard for zoos and aquariums.

Despite the passion and interest at zoos, African lions are categorized as a vulnerable species in the wild as of 2023, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List.


Female lion playing with a concrete cylinder on a green field.

Zoo Boise African lion female, Ashoka, playing. Credit | Chris DeRoin


Protecting African lions

Threats facing African lions

At the beginning of the 1900s, over 200,000 lions roamed Africa. Current estimates suggest the population could be as low as 20,000. Lions occupy only around 10% of their historic range today.

Conservationists and biologists attribute the drastic decrease to various factors, including depletion of prey species, poaching and conflict with humans competing for resources, particularly in communities that raise livestock. However, the significant factor is habitat loss due to human encroachment.

Lions are apex predators and a keystone species. Being at the very top of the food chain, they play a critical role in their ecosystem. It may collapse without them!


Male lion with a tan and dark brown mane licks his top lip as he looks at the camera.

Zoo Boise male African lion, Revan. Credit | Naomi Clayton, NAC Photography


Conserving African lions through SAFE

Fortunately, the AZA and many accredited zoos, like Zoo Boise, have teamed up to raise awareness for the protection of African lions. This includes naming them a Saving Animals From Extinction (SAFE) species in 2016. SAFE focuses the collective resources, knowledge and technology of AZA-accredited facilities and their partners to help spread the word about saving threatened species. Today, there are 41 SAFE species groups through the AZA.

Even though wild African lion populations do not appear to be increasing, there is reason to be optimistic. In some parts of Africa, lions are beginning to appear in protected areas where they’ve not been seen for many years. If this trend continues, there’s a reasonable chance that lion populations may stabilize and eventually establish a pathway to recovery.


A floodplain in Gorongosa National Park with a lion laying in the grass in the foreground. There are antelope and mountains in the background.

Gorongosa floodplain and Mount Gorongosa. Credit | Rachel Winer


African lions at Gorongosa National Park

Zoo Boise has turned zoo visits into a conservation action. In 2007, it became the first zoo to build a conservation fee into admission prices. Since then, visits and other activities at Zoo Boise have generated more than $4 million toward efforts to protect animals in the wild.

Zoo Boise’s largest conservation partner is the Gorongosa Restoration Project in Mozambique, Africa. Over 95% of Gorongosa National Park’s large mammal population, including lions, was wiped out after nearly 30 years of war.

Lions began returning to Gorongosa in 2007, marking the first sighting in the area since the 1960s. The protected park’s lion population has grown from just a handful of lions to over 150.

Relocated buffalo, zebras, hippos, African wild dogs and elephants soon followed. Today, more than 100,000 large animals now call Gorongosa home — an incredible transformation from the 10,000 animals in 2007!

In 2013, Zoo Boise formed a long-term partnership to help protect the many incredible species in Gorongosa. Funding also assists the people of the region. Zoo Boise supports initiatives that create jobs through tourism, support girls’ education and set up mobile health clinics.

Over the past 11 years, Zoo Boise has contributed over $2.2 million to help restore Gorongosa National Park. Learn more about the restoration.


Young male lion laying in some dead grass, lawning.

This male lion yawns as he takes a break in this field. Credit | Miguel Lajas


How you can help African lions

One of the most important ways you can help wild lion populations is to spread the word! Share what you know about declining lion populations with friends, family, even strangers. Help them feel the same concern you do. Education is critical to generating support for conservation!

Conservation organizations can always use financial support; programs protecting lions are no exception. If you’re unsure where to help, contact your local AZA-accredited zoo to see what projects it supports.

If you want to donate to lion conservation, you can do so through the Zoo Boise Conservation Fund, SAFE or by visiting your local AZA-accredited facility today.

See more of the lions, Ahsoka and Revan, on Zoo Boise’s Facebook page.


To learn more about lion conservation, check out the story of Oklahoma City Zoo and Botanical Gardens’ lion cubs.

Related posts

An image from a classic Wild Kingdom episode, featuring Marlin Perkins and Jim Fowler. An image from a classic Wild Kingdom episode, featuring Marlin Perkins and Jim Fowler.

Now Streaming: Classic Wild Kingdom Episodes

Relive your childhood by checking out clips from Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom classic series with Marlin Perkins and Jim Fowler.