A second Lion King movie is due for release this month and wildlife conservationists are urging Disney to share its billion-dollar profits to fund wild lion conservation in Africa.
Projections suggest that the photorealistic animated remake of the original 1994 Disney film is set to make over USD $200 million dollars in its opening weekend and top the USD $8 billion dollars grossed by the original Lion King franchise.
Disney has announced that while it has already donated USD $1.5 million to the Lion Recovery Fund it plans to raise USD $1.5 million through its “Protect the Pride” campaign, totalling a USD$ 3 million donation to lion conservation.
But conservation groups are calling this a “shamefully cheap gesture”, saying that USD $1.5 million is less than 0.02% of the Lion King franchise profits and that the Disney Conservation Fund donations since 1995, a total of USD $13 million, is less than 0.2% of Lion King profits.
“The number of wild lions has plummeted by 42% since the release of the original Lion King movie in 1994, despite the world’s love affair with this iconic and majestic animal,” says Donalea Patman, director of For the Love of Wildlife. “If Disney truly revered the King they would be committed to their survival in the wild (and) sharing their massive profits.”
In a letter addressed to Disney CEO, Robert Iger, non-profit organisations For the Love of Wildlife, Blood Lions and Nature Needs More are calling on Disney to re-evaluate and increase its contribution from the Lion King blockbuster to lion conservation.
Threats to the species include the growing lion bone trade in Asia; livestock and human encroachment into lion habitat; human-lion conflict and trophy hunting.
To counter the supply and demand cycle of the Asian lion-bone trade, the organisations are requesting that Disney funds a CITES (Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) e-permit system to reduce the amount of documentation discrepancies in permitting. More than 90% of CITES trade data between 2003 and 2012 had discrepancies, according to a 2015 paper. This not only opens loopholes for illegal transactions, but also delays CITES protection of species identified as at risk.
According to CITES officials the cost to roll out a more efficient e-permitting system globally is less than USD $40 million.
“Just 1% (of the Lion King earnings) would be USD $80 million, which in one step would easily cover the USD $40 million cost to roll out the CITES e-permit system (…) across all 183 parties, not only saving lions, but all the 36 000 or more species listed,” says Patman.
Conservationists emphasise that lion conservation does not include captive lion breeding programmes which has developed significantly in South Africa over the past decade. The industry, which raises many welfare concerns, is countering conservation efforts and aiding the lion-bone trade by breeding lion cubs for petting before releasing them into enclosures for “canned” hunting.
“The captive breeding industry has no benefits to wild lion populations but may negatively impact them through the lion bone trade and the need for new genes,” says Ian Michler of Blood Lions.
The funding proposal highlighted that the definition of wild lion conservation is ensuring that wild populations not only survive, but also grow.
“An updated census detailing the most vulnerable populations will be of significant benefit (to lion conservation). With this, further funding to restrict losses and conflict would be vital,” says Michler.
Studies show that USD $1 billion is needed annually to secure Africa’s protected areas with lions and if all existing lion ranges were adequately managed, the species could triple in number.
“If Disney chooses not to take leadership here, when it is making US$8 billion plus from our fascination with lions, then how can we expect other organisations who generate profits from people’s love of wildlife to care?” says Patman.