Countdown and 8 out of 10 Cats Does Countdown star Rachel Riley unveiled a dramatic new lion sculpture in Trafalgar Square today, highlighting the plight of big cats ahead of Nat Geo WILD’S Big Cat Week with the stark warning that lions could be extinct in our lifetime if action isn’t taken now.

Adding to the famous four resident bronze lions, which have been situated in Trafalgar Square since 1867, the sculpture was built entirely from clockwork mechanics to represent time, which is running out for many big cat species.  It will stand in Trafalgar Square for a very limited period before being auctioned to raise money for the National Geographic Society’s Big Cats Initiative.

Lions were last month added to the endangered species list, with a combination of habitat loss, poaching and loss of prey contributing to a drastic population decline of nearly 50% in the last twenty years alone.  The current population estimated is to be as low as 20,000 in the wild.

Big Cat Week starts on Nat Geo WILD Monday 1 February at 8pm, with a number of shows including Vanishing Kings: Desert Lions of Namib – providing emotional insights into the journeys and future of the species. The week-long series supports the National Geographic Society’s Big Cats Initiative, a long-term commitment to stop poaching, save habitat and raise awareness of the issues facing big cats all over the world, and to help raise vital funds to support on-the-ground projects.

Countdown’s Rachel Riley, who unveiled the statue, has helped crunch numbers with conservation experts: “I’m a huge cat lover both big and small but the plight of our big cats is alarming.  You don’t need a maths degree to notice the staggering decline in lion populations.  In the 1800s there were hundreds of thousands of wild lions worldwide, but at the current rate of decline this figure could be in the hundreds within the next thirty years, with the realistic prospect of extinction in my lifetime.”

She adds, “For every ten lions on the planet 100 years ago, only one roams free today, which really puts the issue into perspective. From Monday Big Cat Week on Nat Geo WILD brings home these very real dangers threatening lions and other big cats around the world, as well as showing them in all their majesty in the wild.”  

National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence and co-founder of the Big Cats Initiative Dereck Joubert commented; “We no longer have the luxury of time when it comes to big cats”. He added, “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.”

The 3 metre tall Clockwork Lion statue will stand in Trafalgar Square for a limited time before it is auctioned to raise money for the Big Cats Initiative.  Funds raised by the charity go directly into helping reduce poaching, combating lion snaring, providing treatment to snared lions and educating local communities on how to coexist and flourish with big cats in their backyards.