What’s in a Number?

From 450,000 lions in the 1940s to 23,000 today – that latter number put forth by the World Conservation Union African Lion Working Group, taken from individual population estimates in primarily protected areas (Bauer & Van Der Merwe 2004, Chardonnet 2002).  As I move the slider back and forth on the National Geographic Lion Decline Map I keep repeating that number: 23,000.  I have a hard time contextualizing large numbers.  What does 23,000 mean, exactly?  And to me, specifically?  How do I relate to it?  What can I compare it to?

Here, then, is what’s in a number.

  • 1,022,234,000: African human population, 2010.
  • 750,000,000: Number of active Facebook users.
  • 227,958,258: African human population, 1950.
  • 5,156,913: NYC Subway average weekday ridership, 2010.
  • 450,000: African lion population, 1940s.
  • 103,680: Average number of adult human heartbeats per day.
  • 36,268: Seattle Sounders FC average MLS home game attendance, 2011.
  • 24,000: Number of miles Kim and I will fly roundtrip to Africa and back, each.
  • 23,000: Number of lions remaining on the African continent, 2002.

For every Sounders home game I attend there are 13,000 more people in the stadium alongside me than there are lions on the entire continent of Africa. There are not even enough lions to match the number of miles I’ll be flying between Seattle and Africa.


Sobering to describe what’s in that number.

National Geographic Lion Decline Map

National Geographic Lion Decline Map

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