Time is running out for big cats.
That’s the message of a new statue on display for just one day in London’s Trafalgar Square, commissioned by Nat Geo Wild and about to be auctioned to raise money for National Geographic’s Big Cats Initiative.
The gaunt frame, torn hide, and wide, harrowed eyes of the Clockwork Lion give a drastically different impression than the steady, powerful look of the famous Landseer Lions around him, dramatically illustrating the decline wild lions have experienced since the original statues were installed in 1867.
For those seeking more literal communication of the situation, a plaque on the front of the base provides viewers facts about lions and the Big Cats Initiative’s work to protect them in the wild.
Rachel Riley, mathematically inclined co-host of the long-lived British puzzle show,”Countdown,” unveiled the sculpture on January 28 to highlight the plight of big cats ahead of Big Cat Week airing in the UK 8pm, February 1-7 on Nat Geo Wild. “You don’t need a maths degree to notice the staggering decline in lion populations,” she said. “For every ten lions on the planet 100 years ago, only one roams free today.”
You don’t need a history degree either, but if you have one, the statue and its location speak even more eloquently about the challenges facing wild lions and those who would protect them today.
The statues surround the base of Nelson’s Column, monument to the naval commander who successfully defended Britain against Napoleonic conquest. At the battle of Trafalgar, for which the square is named, Nelson had fewer ships but bolder tactics and his forces soundly defeated the Franco-Spanish fleet. Though Nelson himself died in the battle, his confident and unconventional maneuvers catapulted Britain from a position of anxious defense to utter supremacy at sea around the world.
Today, poaching and habitat loss are the lions’ Napoleon. Can we Nelson them out of annihilation?
“We no longer have the luxury of time when it comes to big cats,” he said. “Today we have more statues of them than actual cats roaming the world so it is important that we raise awareness of these majestic creatures and point to their rapid decline and find solutions. If declines continue at their current pace, wild cat species around the world face a very real risk of extinction. That is why a week dedicated to big cats is hugely important. It stimulates discussion and can help us find solutions.”