Lions may soon disappear entirely from West Africa unless conservation efforts improve, a new study predicts. The study, published January 8 in the peer-reviewed scientific journal PLOS ONE, presents “sobering results” of a survey that took six years and covered 11 countries.
Lions once ranged from Senegal to Nigeria, a distance of more than 1,500 miles. The new survey found an estimated total of only 250 adult lions occupying less than one percent of that historic range. The lions form four isolated populations: one in Senegal; two in Nigeria; and a fourth on the borders of Benin, Niger, and Burkina Faso. Only that last population has more than 50 lions.Study co-author Philipp Henschel, the Gabon-based survey coordinator for the big cat conservation group Panthera, told National Geographic. “In many countries it was not known that there were no more lions in those areas because there had been no funding to conduct surveys.”
The survey covered 21 protected areas in 11 countries in West Africa. All the areas contained suitable intact lion habitat but only four isolated populations were recorded. The study identified the reduction in the lion’s historic range as a result of large-scale land use changes as being the major cause that threatens he West African Lion. In addition lions that occur in protected areas have been killed by local people in retaliation to livestock killings, and the poaching of lions’ prey to supply local and regional bushmeat markets. Henschel highlights in the report that park authorities in West Africa dont have the the resources to prevent retaliatory killings or poaching. “When we looked at the 21 management areas, we realized that six of them had no operating budget at all, and compared to the big game parks in South and East Africa, they are all understaffed. These ‘paper parks’ are systematically being stripped by poachers.” said Henschel.
Author: Brian Clark Howard, National Geographic, Published January 8, 2014