About two years ago, seven lion cubs made their debut at the National Zoo. They were an extraordinary reminder of the unique beauty and almost majestic quality of wild animals. Unfortunately, as was made clear in the Dec. 5 news story “Study says lion population is down to 32,000 in Africa,” it’s increasingly likely that the best place to see litters of lions will be a zoo.

One sign the situation is dire: A leading wild-cat conservation group actually advocates lion hunting. Luke Hunter, head of Panthera, was quoted by The Post as saying, “I have to ask myself whether [lion hunting] can be a tool for conservation.” But even if hunting temporarily preserves habitat by generating revenue, logic dictates that killing something isn’t the way to save it.

Perhaps one answer lies at the zoo, with the lion cubs. The Smithsonian’s zoo attracts about 2 million people per year, and it doesn’t charge a penny. A modest fee per visitor — or even just a premium to see rare animals like lions — could fund a major conservation effort to save critical wildlife habitat. I know I’d be perfectly happy to shell out five or 10 bucks if it meant a brighter (and non-hunted) future for endangered wild animals.

Sam Brooks, Washington