"Catastrophic collapse" in the number of lions in West Africa to 400 could lead to extinction

West Africa Lion photo
CC BY-SA 2.0 Flickr

Only found in 1.1% of their historical range

According to a new study, lions in Africa now number fewer than 35,000 individuals and occupy only 25% of their historical range. The situation is "most critical" in West Africa because lion populations there are geographically isolated from others, so much so that the species is considered regionally endangered.

The West African lion is now gone from around 99% of its historical range, with only about 400 individuals left and 88% of those (±350) being in a single population. This is a "catastrophic collapse", according to the author of the study published in the Open Access journal PLOS One. Before this survey, lions were believed to still live in 21 different protected area of West Africa. Now we know that they remain in just 4 of those..

West Africa Lion mapPLOS/via

"Our results came as a complete shock; all but a few of the areas we surveyed were basically paper parks, having neither management budgets nor patrol staff, and had lost all their lions and other iconic large mammals," Philipp Henschel, co-author of the report, told the BBC's Sivaramakrishnan Parameswaran.

The researchers discovered that West African lions now survive in only five countries; Senegal, Nigeria and a single trans-frontier population on the shared borders of Benin, Niger and Burkina-Faso.

These lions have unique genetic sequence not found in other lions including in zoos or captivity. If they are lost then a unique locally adapted population will become extinct, researchers say.

Large-scale plantations for cotton and food crops have contributed significantly to the decline of the lions in the last decade, the survey found. (source)

This important research was funded by Panthera, a non-profit, and was carried out in 17 countries over more than six years. Kudos for the great work! Let's hope people wake up and we can save the West African lion.

While this is depressing, here's something to bring your spirits back up:

More on the backstory of this video here.

Via PLOS One, BBC, SciAm

See also: Killing lions to protect them? Does it make sense?

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