The following story was written by Malaika Fraley and originally posted on the Oakland Tribue website.
In the wake of public outrage over the illegal trophy killing of an iconic African lion in Zimbabwe, the Oakland Zoo on Saturday held its second annual Lion Appreciation Day in hopes of inspiring people to help work to conserve lions in the United States as well as in Africa.
Many families that arrived had no idea it was special event at the Oakland Zoo, but the day was devoted to educating people about conservation efforts surrounding the American mountain lion and its African cousins through games, activities and information kiosks.
Children got their faces painted like lions, and people of all ages took pictures with cutouts of Leonard and Sandy, 15-year-old sibling African lions rescued by the Houston SPCA and brought to the Oakland Zoo as young cubs in 2000.
Youth signed giant thank-you cards to the airlines that, after the famous African lion Cecil was killed in July by an American big-game hunter, reacted to the public outrage over Cecil's death and changed their policies to stop allowing trophy hunter shipments. Cards were made for lion-supporting celebrities like late-night talk show host Jimmy Kimmel, who gave an impassioned monologue over the death of the popular lion who was supposed to be protected against game hunters at the national park where he lived.
The zoo also collected signatures to urge the U.S. government to declare African lions an endangered species, which would make importing of their bodies into the country by game hunters illegal.
"What people learned with the Cecil incident is that their voice counts. It was all their petitions and all that action across the globe that got the airlines to rethink their policies, that got people to recognize that they can actually make a difference if they say something," said Amy Gotliffe, conservation director at the Oakland Zoo.
Outside the Leonard and Sandy's habitat, children learned about the differences between mountain lions, transient and solo creatures rarely seen in the wild, versus African lions, who are widely seen living on the plains. A game hosed by the Mountain Lion Foundation proved that American children know much more about the latter.
There are about the same number of African lions in Africa as there are mountain lions in the United States, about 32,000. For every one lion that is trophy hunted in Africa, four mountain lions are trophy hunted in the United States, where the practice is only illegal in California and Florida, said Lynn Cullens, associate director of the Mountain Lion Foundation, a zoo partner and national Sacramento-based nonprofit.
"The most disturbing of all the statistics related to the Cecil event is that there are 500 lions killed in the entire continent of Africa in a year. In Idaho alone, we kill 500 mountain lions a year. So we are hoping to get people more aware that our lions have similar value," Cullens said. "They are the top predator in our ecosystem, and we are outraged by what's happened in Africa, but we don't seem to have developed that same outrage about what we are allowing in our own country, so we would like to see other states follow the lead of California and stop trophy hunting of mountain lions."