for National Geographic News
The king of beasts may soon be dethroned, as conflicts between African lions and humans contribute to the big cats' population decline.
Now, to improve the lions' lot, conservationists are trying to rekindle an age-old aspect of life on the continent, when lions and people lived relatively peaceably side by side.
The effort will be tough, researchers say, but it is the best way of preventing the iconic species from becoming even more threatened.
"Africans know how to live together with lionsthey have been doing so for a very long time," James Murombedzi told a workshop held earlier this year to consider the lions' plight.
Based in Harare, Zimbabwe, Murombedzi is the regional director for southern Africa for the World Conservation Union (IUCN) based in Switzerland.
IUCN and the Bronx, New York-based Wildlife Conservation Society convened the workshop in Johannesburg, South Africa, following a contentious conference in Thailand last year.
At that event officials from Kenya (see map) had to back down in the face of fierce opposition from other African countries when the Kenyans proposed that lions be given more protection.
The suggested changes would have slapped tough restrictions on commercial trade in lions and their parts, most notably trophies from safari hunting.
IUCN data show that lion numbers have remained relatively stable inside game reserves.
Currently between 23,000 and 39,000 of the big cats roam wild, according to official estimates (kids feature: lion fun facts).
The trouble is in nonprotected lands, which encompass about half of the species' range. This is where the lions' decline has been the biggest.
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