West African Lion Faces Extinction
To many, the mighty lion is the face of African wildlife and one of the most recognized predators across the world.
But despite sitting on top of the food chain, the lion is a vulnerable species and a new report concludes that the African lion is facing extinction across the entire West African region.
The new study reveals that the West African lion is down to a population estimated at 250, and these individuals are restricted to four isolated populations.
The paper, published in the journal PLOS One, was led by Panthera's survey coordinator Dr Philipp Henschel and co-authored by an international team including Oxford University's Professor David Macdonald and Dr Lauren Coad. It is the result of a six-year survey, covering 11 countries where lions were presumed to exist over the last 20 years.
The team discovered that West African lions now survive in only five countries: Senegal and Nigeria, with a single trans-frontier population on the shared borders of Benin, Niger and Burkina Faso. They are genetically distinct from the better-known lions of famous game parks in East and southern Africa. Recent molecular research shows they are closely related to the extinct 'Barbary Lions' which once roamed North Africa, as well as to the last Asiatic lions surviving in India.
Co-author Dr Lauren Coad, Oxford Martin research fellow at the Environmental Change Institute, University of Oxford, emphasized the need for international funding and support for West Africa's protected areas. She said: "Our findings suggest that many of the West African protected areas still supporting lion populations are chronically underfunded and understaffed. Many protected areas evaluated for this study did not have the capacity to undertake anti-poaching patrols, and as a result lion populations within their boundaries are under threat from poachers, who target both lions and their prey."
Today, fewer than 35,000 lions remain in Africa in about 25% of the species' original range. In West Africa, the lion now survives in an area smaller than half the size of New York State and only 1% of its original historic range in the region.
The results of the study shed light on how well the world's protected areas are being managed. Dr Coad has been using management evaluations by protected area managers to investigate these areas and to assess how many have insufficient funding or staff to combat the threats to biodiversity.
Read more at the University of Oxford.
Lion image via Shutterstock.