DENVER – Simba, Mufasa and the other lions in the original Lion King movie are iconic, and when Disney decided to update the movie with more realistic animation, one of the first calls they made was to Hollie Colahan at the Denver Zoo.
“They reached out to me and said, 'We want to get our designers and our artists in contact with zoos that have lions,” she told Denver7 about that initial call.
Hollie is the Vice President for Animal Care at the Denver Zoo. She also coordinates the species survival plan for lions for the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, moving lions around the country to maintain strong breeding lions.
“We want a population that’s going to be stable long term, avoid in-breeding, that type of thing,” she said. “We want a population that’s sustainable long-term and we want to make sure that zoos that want lions have them.”
Sustaining the population in zoos is one thing. Increasing the population in the wild is another more pressing task.
“The first Lion King movie came out 25 years ago and since that time and this new movie coming out this summer, we’ve lost half the world’s lions,” she explained.
Today there are only about 20,000 lions in the wild. That’s down from 200,000 a century ago when they roamed ten times as much area in Africa as they do today.
Disney is hoping this new movie brings awareness to the plight of lions and is working with the Lion Recovery Fund, another organization Hollie is a part of, and other lion experts around the world on a project called Protect the Pride.
“I think if we see people walk out of that movie or walk away from what we’re talk about going ‘wow, lions are in trouble and I want to know how I can help,’ I think that would be a great success,” Hollie said.
“The good news is there are still enough lions and the population is still healthy enough that we can save them. We can bring them back.”